horsemen, the Cawasses, the attendants of the Mosul gentlemen, the Mosul gentlemen themselves, and our own servants, all armed to the teeth. Ali Effendi, chief of the Mosul branch of the Omeree, or descendants of Omar, which had furnished several Pashas to the province, was our principal Mussulman friend. He was mounted on the Hedban, a well-known white Arab, beautiful in form and pure in blood, but then of great age. Close at his horse's heels followed a confidential servant; who, perched on a pack-saddle, seemed to roll from side to side on two small barrels, the use of which might have been an enigma, had they not emitted a very strong smell of raki. A Christian gentleman was wrapped up in cloaks and furs, and appeared to dread the cold, although the thermometer was at 100. The English lady was equipped in riding-habit and hat. The two Englishmen, Mr. Ross and myself, wore a striking mixture of European and oriental raiments. Mosul ladies, in blue veils, their faces concealed by black horsehair sieves, had been dragged to the top of piles of carpets and cushions, under which groaned their unfortunate mules. Greyhounds in leashes were led by Arabs on foot; whilst others played with strange dogs, who followed the caravan for change of air. The horsemen galloped round and round, now dashing into the centre of the crowd, throwing their horses on their haunches when at full speed, or discharging their guns and pistols into the air. A small flag with British colours was fastened to the top of a spear, and confided to a Cawass. Such was the motley caravan which left Mosul by the Bab el Top, where a crowd of women had assembled to witness the procession. We took the road to the ruins of the monastery of Mar Elias, a place of pilgrimage for the Christians of Mosul, which we passed after an hour's ride. Evening set in before we could reach the desert, and we pitched our tents for the night on a lawn near a deserted village, about nine miles from the town. On the following morning we soon emerged from the low limestone hills; which, broken into a thousand rocky valleys, form a barrier between the Tigris and the plains of Mesopotamia.

We now found ourselves in the desert, or rather wilderness ; for at this time of the year, nature could not disclose a more varied scene, or a more luxuriant vegetation. We trod on an interminable carpet, figured by flowers of every hue. Nor was water wanting; for the abundant rains had given reservoirs to every hollow, and to every ravine. Their contents, owing to the nature of the soil, were brackish, but not unwholesome. Clusters of black tents were scattered, and flocks of sheep and camels wandered, over the plain. Those of our party who were well mounted urged their horses through the meadows, pursuing the herds of gazelles, or the wild boar, skulking in the long grass. Although such scenes as these may be described, the exhilaration caused by the air of the desert in spring, and the feeling of freedom arising from the contemplation of its boundless expanse, must have been experienced before they can be understood. The stranger, as well as the Arab, feels the intoxication of the senses which they produce.

About mid-day we found ourselves in the midst of extensive herds of camels. They belonged to the tribe of Haddedeen. The sonorous whoop of the Arab herdsmen resounded from all sides. A few horsemen were galloping about, driving back the stragglers, and directing the march of the leaders of the herd. Shortly after we came up with some families moving to a new place of encampment, and at their head I recognised my old antiquity hunter, Mormous. He no sooner perceived us than he gave orders to those who followed him, and of whom he was the chief, to pitch their tents. We were now in the Wadi Ghusub, formed by a small salt stream, forcing its sluggish way through a dense mass of reeds and water shrubs, from which the valley has taken its name. About fifteen tents having been raised, a sheep was slaughtered in front of the one in which we sat; large wooden bowls of sour milk, and platters of fresh butter were placed before us; fires of camel's dung were lighted; decrepit old women blew up the flames; the men cut the carcase into small pieces, and capacious cauldrons soon sent forth volumes of steam.

The sheep having been boiled, the Arabs pulled the fragments out of the cauldron and laid them on the wooden platters with their fingers. We helped ourselves after the same fashion. The servants succeeded to the dishes, which afterwards passed through the hands of the camel drivers and tent pitchers; and at last, denuded of all apparently edible portions, reached a strong party of expectant Arabs. The condition of the bones by the time they were delivered to a crowd of hungry dogs, assembled on the occasion, may easily be imagined.

We resumed our journey in the afternoon, preceded by Mormous, who volunteered to accompany us. As we rode over the plain, we fell in with the Sheikh of the Haddedeen mounted on a fine mare, and followed by a large concourse of Arabs, driving their beasts of burden loaded with tents and furniture. He offered to conduct us to a branch of the Shammar, whose encampment we could reach before evening. We gladly accepted his offer, and he left his people to ride with us.

We had been wandering to and fro in the desert, uncertain as to the course we should pursue. The Sheikh now rode in the direction of the Tigris. Before nightfall we came to a large encampment, and recognised in its chief one Khalaf, an Arab who frequently came to Mosul, and whom Mr. Rassam and myself had met on our previous journey to Al Hather. He received us with hospitality; sheep were immediately slaughtered, and we dismounted at his tent. Even his wives, amongst whom was a remarkably pretty Arab girl, came to us to gratify their curiosity by a minute examination of the Frank lady. As the intimacy, which began to spring up, was somewhat inconvenient, we directed our tents to be pitched at a distance from the encampment, by the side of a small stream. It was one of those calm and pleasant evenings, which in spring make a paradise of the desert. The breeze, bland and perfumed by the odor of flowers, came calmly over the plain. As the sun went down, countless camels and sheep wandered to the tents, and the melancholy call of the herdsmen rose above the bleating of the flocks. The Arabs led their prancing mares to the water; the colts, as they followed, played and rolled on the grass. I spread my carpet at a distance from the group, to enjoy uninterrupted the varied scene. Rassam, now in his element, collected around him a knot of admiring Arabs, unscrewed telescopes, exhibited various ingenious contrivances, and described the wonders of Europe, interrupted by the exclamations of incredulous surprise, which his marvellous stories elicited from the hearers. Ali Effendi and his Mussulman friends, who preferred other pleasures and more definite excitement, hid themselves in the high rushes, and handed round a small silver bowl containing fragrant ruby-coloured spirits, which might have rejoiced even the heart of Hafiz. The cameldrivers and servants hurried over the lawn, tending their animals or preparing the evening meal. We had now reached the pasture-grounds of the Shammar, and Sheikh Khalaf declared that Sofuk's tents could not be far distant. A few days before they had been pitched almost among the ruins of Al Hather; but he had since left them, and it was not known where he had encamped. We started early in the morning, and took the direction pointed out by Khalaf. Our view was bounded to the east by a rising ground. When we reached its summit, we looked down upon a plain, which appeared to swarm with moving objects. We had come upon the main body of the Shammar. The scene caused in me feelings of melancholy, for it recalled many hours, perhaps unprofitably, though certainly happily spent ; and many friends, some who now sighed in captivity for the joyous freedom which those wandering hordes enjoyed ; others who had perished in its defence. We soon found ourselves in the midst of wide-spreading flocks of sheep and camels. As far as the eye could reach, to the right, to the left, and in front, still the same moving crowd. Long lines of asses and bullocks laden with black tents, huge cauldrons and variegated carpets; aged women and men, no longer able to walk, tied on the heap of domestic furniture; infants crammed into saddle-bags, their tiny heads thrust through the narrow opening, balanced on the animal's back by

kids or lambs tied on the opposite side; young girls clothed only in the close-fitting Arab shirt, which displayed rather than

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

concealed their graceful forms; mothers with their children on their shoulders; boys driving flocks of lambs; horsemen armed

« ElőzőTovább »