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STRAY PAGES FROM A TRAVELLER'S JOURNAL.
BY MAJOR ROCHFORT SCOTT.
No. 2.—A TOUR THROUGH THE KESROUAN—(continued). The day following that on which I had paid my visit to the Emir Haida, I received an invitation to dine with His Highness, to meet the French and Sardinian Consuls from Beyrout. It was announced to be a kind of fête champêtre, at the source of a crystal stream that rises in a beautifully wooded ravine close under Mar Elias. I had, however, made arrangements to ride to Zachle and declined the Emir's invitation, which I afterwards regretted, circumstances having occurred that prevented my carrying into effect the journey I had projected. On returning that day from my evening's ride, I was surprised by the unusual sight of two well-dressed ladies, attended by the Superiors of the rival Convents and several good-looking young monks, enjoying the cool sun-set breeze on the terraced roof of the Convent; and learning that they were the Emiress and her daughter, I, of course, begged permission to have the honour of waiting upon them; a request which was most readily granted. I found them very agreeable lady-like persons, and far better informed than I had the least conception any Syrian lady-even though a princess-could be. They spoke with a warmth that evidently was not affected, of the debt of gratitude they owed to England for restoring to them what they valued most upon earth ; and there could be no doubt they meant their husbands, since the vindictive old Ex-Emir Beschir had taken care to make away with every thing belonging to them that could be converted into piastres.
Both the princesses wore the singular long silver horn, called Tantour; which protruding about 15 inches from the forehead, supports a veil that serves to screen the wearer as well from the sun's rays as from the impertinent gaze of strangers. The high tortoise-shell comb and lace mantilla worn by the dark-eyed Doñas of Andalusia, have evidently descended from this, more exalted, horn of their Arabian ancestors; though the Spanish ladies, not being by any means so coy of exposing their charms as their Syrian cousins, do not make the drapery serve the purpose of a screen. To be sure they have less reason to leave a field for the imagination.
Within an hour's ride of Mar Elias, lying in a North-east direction, and situated in a deep ravine, almost unapproachable from the badness of the roads, is the “ Greek-Catholic” Convent of Mar Hannah Schwere (St. John of Schwere); an establishment whose fame is spread throughout the Lebanon, from the circumstance of its possessing a printing press !- I believe the only one in Syria. It is now but little used; indeed, the whole of the monastic establishment bears signs of decay; even the solidly built edifice itself being in a ruinous condition. The monks at first appeared little disposed to admit me, but having expressed a firm determination to see the interior of the house, the gate, after some parley, was reluctantly opened. The Superior, however, to whose room I was forthwith conducted, proved remarkably civil and communicative; preserved fruits and iced water were immediately served, pipes and coffee, as a matter of course, followed, and as he spoke a little Italian, our conversation was maintained without the aid of a dragoman. He showed me several editions of the Bible in Arabic, and various Lives of Saints in the same language, which had been printed and bound at the Convent. They were respectably got up, but he admitted that, as regarded the Arabic Bibles, they were now imported from Europe at so much cheaper a rate than they could be printed at the Convent, that the demand for them had nearly ceased. The Brotherhood is numerous, Monks, Printers, and Devils inclusive, amounting to 40. The Convent is also reputed to be rich in tithes as well as types. The Superior pressed me very earnestly to remain some days with him, and on receiving my assurance that it was not then in my power to do so, exacted a promise that I would pass a week at the Convent during the Autumn, when he said he would ensure me some good woodcock and wild boar shooting. Of this promised visit he took several opportunities to remind me by persons proceeding to Beyrout, but circumstances occurred to prevent my ever paying it.
Whilst sojourning at Mar Elias, the whole neighbourhood was thrown into a state of feverish excitement by the occurrence of an event which threatened to involve two influential families in a san, guinary feud. Knives and scimitars had been ground to a sharp edge, blunderbusses and “tower-muskets” were kept ready loaded, with a double allowance of slugs; “big men" with big words had blustered at each other, and deadly weapons had even been brandished in the air by the adverse parties, with cries of “ war to the knife.” Conferences, protocols, mediations, all the most approved modes of settling a disputed point, had been tried in vain; both parties refused to concede; the casus belli was clearly established; and here were two powerful clans about to rush headlong into a fearful struggle, for a simple, everyday matter, which, in our more civilized land, would have been quietly settled by an action at law, to recover damages for a breach of promise of marriage ! The case was this ; a young and beautiful girl of a Beckfeian family, had, in her infancy, been contracted to a youth of the village of Beit Shebab. According to the custom of the country, the betrothed pair had been carefully kept apart until they were of an age to marry; but, unluckily, during this long period of procrastination, the too-susceptible damsel, regardless of the contract entered into for her when at a tender age, had, on reaching years of indiscretion, conceived a tendresse for a handsome young cousin, who, from his youth up, had been in the habit of assisting her in the pleasing labours of the mulberry grove and silk-loom; and when called upon to give her hand at the altar to him to whom it had been plighted, the candid maiden replied that she would not be guilty of a sin which, in her eyes, was far greater than that of breaking the faith she had never given ; namely, that of wedding one to whom she could not give her heart,--and she freely confessed, that whilst spinning silken threads from her papa's cocoons, she had become bound, heart and soul, to her mamma's brother's son by a ligature, which, though of a softer, was of a far more binding nature, wove by the hands of the wayward, blindfold, little God of Love. The case now stood, Cupid versus
Cupidity; for the young lady was the heir presumptive to no end of mulberry trees; but Jealousy and mortified Vanity were retained as special counsel to conduct the prosecution, and the trial by battle was strongly urged by those prejudiced pleaders, as the most likely to lead to a favourable result.
Both parties had, however, in the first instance, claimed the interference of the Church; one contending, that the contract of marriage had been made under its holy guarantee ; the other submitting that it would be a “deadly sin" to swear at the altar to do what was impossible. The European Consuls had likewise been appealed to, to intercede : but, as I have before stated, all attempts at composition had proved fruitless; there was no possibility of devising any mezzo termine, whereby the dispute of these modern Capuletti and Montecchi could be satisfactorily arranged; and the stronger party, namely, that of the jilted swain, waited only the arrival of the contract day, to proceed to Beckfeia in battle array, and force the faithless damsel from her lover's arms. · I did not remain long enough at Mar Elias to witness the dénouement of this affair; but I learnt afterwards that, at the instigation of the Emir Haida, so at least it was said, the Church was at length induced to interfere, and had issued its dread mandate, threatening with anathema the parents and friends of the damsel if they persisted in abetting her in her wicked attempt to back out of the sacred engagement by which she had become bound. On the promulgation of this bull, the upraised weapons of the adverse parties fell from their hands like those of Whiskerandos and the two uncles when called upon “ in the Queen's name" " to keep the peace;" and the youth took to his home a bride, who, without mincing the matter, had told him she loved another better than himself. How strange it is that people will commit such acts of folly! but the flesh is weak, and the maiden was rich and “ fair to look upon.”
Tempted by the invigorating temperature of the mountains, my two agreeable countrymen and fellow guests at the Convent willingly acceded to my proposal of making an exploring excursion to the summit of Djibel Sanin ; one of the loftiest peaks of the Lebanon range. We set out accordingly on the morning of the 17th of August, carrying a tent with us, and accompanied by a mule laden with provisions for ourselves and cattle. · On quitting the Convent, we ascended rapidly for about ten minutes through a wood of tall pines; on emerging from which we found ourselves on the broad summit of a lofty mountain chain, and in the midst of vineyards, Edging now away to the East, we soon cut in upon the road from Beyrout to Zachle, and striking into it, continued along the crest of the ridge, which is a continuation of that of Brumanah, and here becoines again so very narrow, that froin the road we looked completely into the wide, fertile valleys which spread out on either side of it. On the steep declivity of that on our left hand, lay the populous village of Schwere; and in the very bottom of the valley, but some miles further removed from us, could be seen the Convent of Mar Hannah. In that on our right hand was the village of Mitain, situated on the top of a comparatively low, but rock-bound, peninsulated hill, of very difficult access, and crowned with brilliant verdure ; beyond, on the cragged side of Djibel Keniseh, could be descried the white houses of the Druse villages of Karnail and Ferserowan.
An hour's riding, descending gradually during the last mile, brought ụs to a khan and chapel, belonging to the village of El Merouge; the rest of the place, which consists principally of detached houses, embosomed in groves of fig and other fruit trees, lies a little removed from the road, on the right hand. In front of the khan stand some remarkably fine ilex trees, forming a clump which is a conspicuous object from almost all parts of the country, as well from the size of the trees composing it, as from the contrast their dark foliage offers to the bright green of the circumjacent vineyards and mulberry plantations. Their shade affords an agreeable resting-place; and the wine produced in the neighbourhood is not unworthy of notice, being a good, wholesome, fruity liquor, which will take a license with no one, whether drunk on or off the premises.
On leaving El Merouge our road wound up the side of a rough limestone mountain, whereof the horizontally disposed strata are so singularly worn, as to have the semblance of rude, unfinished, or decayed pyramids, obelisks, towers, arches, &c. Where such like geological fantasies prevail, the road is invariably bad; but in less than half an hour we gladly quitted the Zachle road, taking a pathway which, striking off to the left, soon brought us to a more practicable country. The road henceforth wound round the North side of the mountain we had been ascending since quitting El Merouge, which now rose to a considerable height above us, whilst a deep valley, bound by cliffs presenting a perpendicular fall of several hundred feet, was on our left. After proceeding in this way for a couple of miles, a dark chasm presented itself on our right hand, into which, after rain, a roaring torrent discharges itself, falling, at one leap, a depth of 300 or 400 feet, and issuing impetuously from its subterranean confinement into the Wadi Sanin on the left of the road.
On a wide, flat terrace on the opposite side of this singularly wild and rocky valley, we now perceived the populous Christian village of Beskinta, containing ten churches-two Greek and seven Maronite, and one Roman Catholic-a population of 2,000 souls, and a host of Emirs and Scheicks. The village appears to be quite inaccessible, being bounded by perpendicular walls of rock, both above and below. The soil of the slope whereon it stands is full of iron, and, judging from the luxuriance of the gardens and orchards, must be very fertile. mobi . Continuing our route for some time along the North side of the mountain-the country now becoming more open and partially under cultivation-we at length crossed the valley at no great distance from its head, and ascending a rocky eminence, reached a small public house. or khan, situated on a well-beaten road which leads from Djeuni, Ghazir, Djebail, &c., over the Lebanon to Zachle.
· Here, on a green springy sward, by the side of an icy-cold stream, we pitched our tent, tethering our horses on the opposite bank of the brook, where a tempting feast of aromatic and succulent fodder was spread out before them; the rich vegetation extending to the foot of
the bare, lofty ridge of Sanin, which rosé as a wall, to the height of 3,000 feet, immediately above us. Below, lay the wide and singularly roinantic valley along which we had been travelling during the day; the sea and Beyrout being in the distance.
It was a subject of congratulation to us during the night, that we had not carried into execution the plan we had originally projected, of pitching our tent on the summit of Lebanon, for even here, some thousands of feet below, we were so cold as to find four persons in a bell tent, each provided with a cloak and blanket, by no means too large a party. Nevertheless, the cold, on the present occasion, was far less severe than I found it some weeks afterwards on this very same spot, when, during the night, the thermometer inside our tent fell to 45° (Fahrenheit), and on being plunged into the cold stream outside, sunk immediately down to 42° : and although this is a degree of cold which your Polar bear, or Iceland boor would melt under, yet it is sufficiently pinching to such as have been chained to the coast of Syria during the summer; where, night or day, and for several successive months, the thermometer seldom falls much below 80'. Our poor horses, which, in the absence of all shelter, had been picketed near our fires during the night, afforded ample proof of this, for in the morning their coats were “staring" like an angered cat's, and they were shaking from head to foot.
The little Khan of Sanin is abandoned by its proprietor as soon as the winter sets in ; this passage over the Lebanon being one of the first which the snow renders impassable. On the present occasion it afforded us fowls, eggs, wine, barley for our cattle, and a shelter for our servants, and the landlord undertook to have a guide ready for us by daybreak.
The morning promised most favourably for our projected ramble. Fleecy mists, looking like rolls of carded wool, floated heavily over the deep-sunk ravines beneath our encampment, but the summit of the lofty ridge above us was perfectly cloudless : a gilded edging of glittering sunshine defined the jagged crest of the rude mountain, but its precipitous face, towards us, was in dark, deep shade, and its broad shadow was cast over nearly the whole surface of the country stretching towards the Mediterranean.
Gradually, as the shadow of the huge mountain contracted with the sun's increasing altitude, the fleecy covering spread over the valleys began to roll off to the westward, resembling, as they moved along, the monster billows of the ocean on the subsiding of a storm, and soon afterwards not a cloud was to be seen.
We had intended to set out at dawn, in order to take advantage of the shelter from the sun's rays afforded by the precipitous western side of the mountain, but the guide engaged for us by the old Silenus of the Khan, declared, when on the point of starting, that he knew nothing of the road by which we wished to descend the mountain to Fakrah, and would only undertake to guide us to the top. This was evidently a plan concocted between himself and the old Khan-keeper, who, thinking us far too good customers to be parted with on so slight an acquaintance, hoped to constrain us to leave our tent standing, to return to as a sleeping place; for the guide had distinctly stated over