Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

place, as we hunted gazelles and hares by the way. A tunnel through the rock opens by two low arched outlets, upon the river. It is of considerable length, and is continued for about a mile by a deep channel, also cut in the rock, but open at the top. I suspected at once that this was an Assyrian work, and on examining the interior of the tunnel, discovered a slab covered with cuneiform characters, which had fallen from its place, and had been wedged in a crevice. With much difficulty I ascertained that an inscription had also been cut on the back of the tablet. From the darkness of the place, I could scarcely copy even the few characters which had resisted the wear of centuries. Some days after, others who had casually heard of my visit, and conjectured that some Assyrian remains might have been found there, sent a party of workmen to the spot; who, finding the slab, broke it into pieces, in their attempt to displace it. This wanton destruction of the tablet is much to be regretted ; as, from the fragment of the inscription copied, I can perceive that it contained several royal names previously unknown.*

The tunnel of Negoub is undoubtedly a remarkable work, undertaken, as it would appear from the inscription, during the reign of the builder of the palace at Kouyunjik. Its object is doubtful. It may have led the waters of the Zab into the surrounding country for irrigation; or it may have been the termination of the great canal, which is still to be traced by a double range of lofty mounds near the ruins of Nimroud, and which may have united the Tigris with the neighboring river, and thus fertilised a large tract of land. In either case, the level of the two rivers, as well as the face of the country, must have changed considerably since the period of its construction. At present Negoub is above the Zab, except at the time of the highest foods in spring, and then water is only found in the mouth of the tunnel ; all other parts having been much choked up with rubbish and river deposits.

* I have since been able to restore the greater part of the inscription from the fragments of this tablet. It is of considerable importance, as it gives us the names of the father and perhaps grandfather of the Khorsabad King, with which we were not previously acquainted.

CHAP. IV.

PREPARATIONS FOR A JOURNEY TO AL HATHER. GATHERING OF THE

CARAVAN. LEAVE MOSUL. —THE DESERT.-FLOCKS OF CAMELS. THE HADDEDEEN ARABS. -- AN ARAB REPAST. — AN ENCAMPMENT. — AN ARAB TRIBE MOVING.—THE TENTS OF SOFUK,DESCRIPTION OF THE SHAMMAR SHEIKH. — HIS HISTORY. SOFUK'S HAREM AND WIVES. -HIS MARE. — RIDE TO AL HATHER. — ARAB GUIDES. THE RUINS OF AL HATHER. — RETURN TO MOSUL. — MURDER OF NEJRIS — AND OF SOFUK.

THE operations at Nimroud having been completely suspended until orders could be received from Constantinople, I thought the time not inopportune to visit Sofuk, the Sheikh of the great nomad Arab tribe of Shammar, which occupies nearly the whole of Mesopotamia. He had lately left the Khabour, and was now encamped near the western bank of the Tigris, below its junction with the Zab, and consequently not far from Nimroud. I had two objects in going to his tents ; in the first place I wished to obtain the friendship of the chief of a powerful tribe of Bedouins, who would probably cross the river in the neighbourhood of the excavations during the summer, and might indulge, to my cost, in their plundering propensities ; and, at the same time, I was anxious to visit the remarkable ruins of Al Hather, which I had only examined very hastily on my former journey.

Mr. Rassam (the Vice-Consul) and his wife, with several native gentlemen of Mosul, Mussulmans and Christians, were induced to accompany me ; and, as we issued from the gates of the town, and assembled in the well-peopled burying-ground opposite the Governor's palace, I found myself at the head of a formidable party. Our tents, obtained from the Pasha, with our provisions and necessary furniture, were carried by a string of twelve camels. Mounted above these loads, and on donkeys, was an army of camel-drivers, tent-pitchers, and volunteers ready for all services. There were, moreover, a few irregular 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 focks 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

« ElőzőTovább »