Holy Land Rendezvous
( Originally Published 1908 )
Will my friends be here to meet me, I wonder ? This is the question which presses upon me more closely than anything else, I must confess, as I set foot for the first time upon the sacred soil of Palestine. I know that this is not as it should be. All the conventions of travel require the pilgrim to experience a strange curiosity and excitement, a profound emotion, "a supreme anguish," as an Italian writer describes it, "in approaching this land long dreamed about, long waited for, and almost despaired of."
But the conventions of travel do not always correspond to the realities of the heart. Your first sight of a place may not be your first perception of it: that may come afterward, in some quiet, unexpected moment. Emotions do not follow a time-table; and I propose to tell no lies in this nook. My strongest feeling as I enter Jaffa is the desire to know whether my chosen comrades have come to the rendezvous at the appointed time, to begin our long ride together.
It is a remote and uncertain combination, I grant you. The Patriarch, a tall, slender youth of seventy years, whose home is beside the Golden Gate of California, was wandering among the ruins of Sicily when I last heard from him. The Pastor and his wife, the Lady of Walla Walla, who live on the shores of Puget Sound, were riding camels across the peninsula of Sinai and steamboating up the Nile. Have the letters, the cablegrams that were sent to them been safely delivered ? Have the hundreds of un-known elements upon which our combination depended been working secretly together for its success ? Has our proposal been according to the supreme disposal, and have all the roads been kept clear by which we were hastening from three continents to meet on the first day of April at the Hotel du Pare in Jaffa ?
Yes, here are my three friends, in the quaint little garden of the hotel, with its purple-flowering vines of Bougainvillea, fragrant orange-trees, drooping palms, and long-tailed cockatoos drowsing on their perches. When people really know each other an unfamiliar meeting-place lends a singular intimacy and joy to the meeting. There is a surprise in it, no matter how long and carefully it has been planned. There are a thousand things to talk of, but at first nothing will come except the wonder of getting together. The sight of the desired faces, unchanged beneath their new coats of tan, is a happy assurance that personality is not a dream. The touch of warm hands is a sudden proof that friendship is a reality.
Presently it begins to dawn upon us that there is something wonderful in the place of our conjunction, and we realise dimly,—very dimly, I am sure, and yet with a certain vague emotion of reverence,—where we are.
"We came yesterday," says the Lady, "and in the afternoon we went to see the House of Simon the Tanner, where they say the Apostle Peter lodged."
"Did it look like the real house ?"
"Ah," she answers smilingly, "how do I know? They say there are two of them. But what do I care ? It is certain that we are here. And I think that St. Peter was here once, too, whether the house he lived in is standing yet, or not."
Yes, that is reasonably certain; and this is the place where he had his strange vision of a religion meant for all sorts and conditions of men. It is certain, also, that this is the port where Solomon landed his beams of cedar from Lebanon for the building of the Temple, and that the Emperor Vespasian sacked the town, and that Richard Lionheart planted the banner of the crusade upon its citadel. But how far away and dreamlike it all seems, on this spring morning, when the wind is tossing the fronds of the palm-trees, and the gleams of sunshine are flying across the garden, and the last clouds of the broken thunderstorm are racing westward through the blue toward the highlands of Judea.
Here is our new friend, the dragoman George Cavalcanty, known as "Telhami," the Bethlehemite, standing beside us in the shelter of the orange-trees: a trim, alert figure, in his belted suit of khaki and his riding-boots of brown leather.
"Is everything ready for the journey, George?"
"Everything is prepared, according to the instructions you sent from Avalon. The tents are pitched a little beyond Latrûn, twenty miles away. The horses are waiting at Ramleh. After you have had your midday breakfast, we will drive there in carriages, and get into the saddle, and ride to our own camp before the night falls."