A RIDE ACROSS PALESTINE
A RIDE ACROSS PALESTINE
Circumstances took me to the Holy Land without a companion and
compelled me to visit Bethany the Mount of Olives and the Church
of the Sepulchre alone. I acknowledge myself to be a gregarious
animal or perhaps rather one of those which nature has intended
to go in pairs. At any rate I dislike solitude and especially
travelling solitude and was therefore rather sad at heart as I
sat one night at Z-'s hotel in Jerusalem thinking over my proposed
wanderings for the next few days. Early on the following morning I
intended to start of course on horseback for the Dead Sea the
banks of Jordan Jericho and those mountains of the wilderness
through which it is supposed that Our Saviour wandered for the forty
days when the devil tempted him. I would then return to the Holy
City and remaining only long enough to refresh my horse and wipe
the dust from my hands and feet I would start again for Jaffa and
there catch a certain Austrian steamer which would take me to Egypt.
Such was my programme and I confess that I was but ill contented
with it seeing that I was to be alone during the time.
I had already made all my arrangements and though I had no reason
for any doubt as to my personal security during the trip I did not
feel altogether satisfied with them. I intended to take a French
guide or dragoman who had been with me for some days and to put
myself under the peculiar guardianship of two Bedouin Arabs who
were to accompany me as long as I should remain east of Jerusalem.
This travelling through the desert under the protection of Bedouins
was in idea pleasant enough; and I must here declare that I did
not at all begrudge the forty shillings which I was told by our
British consul that I must pay them for their trouble in accordance
with the established tariff. But I did begrudge the fact of the
tariff. I would rather have fallen in with my friendly Arabs as it
were by chance and have rewarded their fidelity at the end of our
joint journeyings by a donation of piastres to be settled by myself
and which under such circumstances would certainly have been as
agreeable to them as the stipulated sum. In the same way I dislike
having waiters put down in my bill. I find that I pay them twice
over and thus lose money; and as they do not expect to be so
treated I never have the advantage of their civility. The world I
fear is becoming too fond of tariffs.
"A tariff!" said I to the consul feeling that the whole romance of
my expedition would be dissipated by such an arrangement. "Then
I'll go alone; I'll take a revolver with me."
"You can't do it sir" said the consul in a dry and somewhat angry
tone. "You have no more right to ride through that country without
paying the regular price for protection than you have to stop in Z-
's hotel without settling the bill."
I could not contest the point so I ordered my Bedouins for the
appointed day exactly as I would send for a ticket-porter at home
and determined to make the best of it. The wild unlimited sands
the desolation of the Dead Sea the rushing waters of Jordan the
outlines of the mountains of Moab;--those things the consular tariff
could not alter nor deprive them of the glories of their
I had submitted and the arrangements had been made. Joseph my
dragoman was to come to me with the horses and an Arab groom at
five in the morning and we were to encounter our Bedouins outside
the gate of St. Stephen down the hill where the road turns close
to the tomb of the Virgin.
I was sitting alone in the public room at the hotel filling my
flask with brandy--for matters of primary importance I never leave
to servant dragoman or guide--when the waiter entered and said
that a gentleman wished to speak with me. The gentleman had not
sent in his card or name; but any gentleman was welcome to me in my
solitude and I requested that the gentleman might enter. In
appearance the gentleman certainly was a gentleman for I thought
that I had never before seen a young man whose looks were more in
his favour or whose face and gait and outward bearing seemed to
betoken better breeding. He might be some twenty or twenty-one
years of age was slight and well made with very black hair which
he wore rather long very dark long bright eyes a straight nose
and teeth that were perfectly white. He was dressed throughout in
grey tweed clothing having coat waistcoat and trousers of the
same; and in his hand he carried a very broad-brimmed straw hat.
"Mr. Jones I believe" he said as he bowed to me. Jones is a good
travelling name and if the reader will allow me I will call
myself Jones on the present occasion.
"Yes" I said pausing with the brandy-bottle in one hand and the
flask in the other. "That's my name; I'm Jones. Can I do anything
for you sir?"
"Why yes you can" said he. "My name is Smith--John Smith."
"Pray sit down Mr. Smith" I said pointing to a chair. "Will you
do anything in this way?" and I proposed to hand the bottle to him.
"As far as I can judge from a short stay you won't find much like
that in Jerusalem."
He declined the Cognac however and immediately began his story.
"I hear Mr. Jones" said he "that you are going to Moab to-
"Well" I replied "I don't know whether I shall cross the water.
It's not very easy I take it at all times; but I shall certainly
get as far as Jordan. Can I do anything for you in those parts?"
And then he explained to me what was the object of his visit. He
was quite alone in Jerusalem as I was myself; and was staying at H-
's hotel. He had heard that I was starting for the Dead Sea and
had called to ask if I objected to his joining me. He had found
himself he said very lonely; and as he had heard that I also was
alone he had ventured to call and make his proposition. He seemed
to be very bashful and half ashamed of what he was doing; and when
he had done speaking he declared himself conscious that he was
intruding and expressed a hope that I would not hesitate to say so
if his suggestion were from any cause disagreeable to me.
As a rule I am rather shy of chance travelling English friends. It