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Road To Damascus - Rasheiya And Its Americanism

( Originally Published 1908 )



THE journey to Rasheiya is like that of the pre-ceding day, except that the bridle-paths are rougher and more precipitous, and the views wider and more splendid. We have crossed the Hasbani again, and leaving the Druses' valley, the Wadi et-Teim, behind us, have climbed the high table-land to the west. We did not know why George Cavalcanty led us away from the path marked in our Baedeker, but we took it for granted that he had some good reason. It is well not to ask a wise dragoman all the questions that you can think of. Tell him where you want to go, and let him show you how to get there. Certainly we are not inclined to complain of the longer and steeper route by which he has brought us, when we sit down at lunch-time among the limestone crags and pinnacles of the wild upland and look abroad upon a landscape which offers the grandeur of immense outlines and vast distances, the beauty of a crystal clearness in all its infinitely varied forms, and the enchantment of gemlike colours, delicate, translucent, vivid, shifting and playing in hues of rose and violet and azure and purple and golden brown and bright green, as if the bosom of Mother Earth were the breast of a dove, breathing softly in the sunlight.

As we climb toward Rasheiya we find our-selves going back a month or more into early spring. Here are the flowers that we saw in the Plain of Sharon on the first of April, gorgeous red anemones, fragrant purple and white cyclamens, delicate blue irises. The fig-tree is putting forth her tender leaf. The vines, lying flat on the ground, are bare and dormant. The springing grain, a few inches long, is in its first flush of almost dazzling green.

The town, built in terraces on three sides of a rocky hill, 4,100 feet above the sea, commands an extensive view. Hermon is in full sight; snow-capped Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon face each other for forty miles; and the little lake of Kafrr Kûk makes a spot of blue light in the foreground.

We are camped on the threshing-floor, a level meadow beyond and below the town; and there the Rasheiyan gilded youth come riding their blooded horses in the afternoon, running races over the smooth turf and showing off their horsemanship for our benefit.

There is something very attractive about these Arabian horses as you see them in their own country. They are spirited, fearless, sure-footed, and yet, as a rule, so docile that they may be ridden with a halter. They are good for a long journey, or a swift run, or a fantasia. The prevailing colour among them is gray, but you see many bays and sorrels and a few splendid blacks. An Arabian stallion satisfies the romantic ideal of how a horse ought to look. His arched neck, small head, large eyes wide apart, short body, round flanks, delicate pasterns, and little feet; the way he tosses his mane and cocks his flowing tail when he is on parade; the swiftness and spring of his gallop, the dainty grace of his walk—when you see these things you recognise at once the real, original horse which the painters used to depict in their "Portraits of General X on his Favourite Charger."

I asked Calvalcanty what one of these fine creatures would cost. "A good horse, two or three hundred dollars; an extra-good one, four hundred; a fancy one, who knows ?"

We find Rasheiya full of Americanism. We walk out to take photographs, and at almost every street corner some young man who has been in the United States or Canada salutes us with: "How are you to-day? You fellows come from America? What's the news there? Is Bryan elected yet ? I voted for McKinley. I got a store in Kankakee. I got one in Jackson, Miss." A beautiful dark-eyed girl, in a dreadful department-store dress, smiles at us from an open door and says: "Take my picture? I been at America."

One talkative and friendly fellow joins us in our walk; in fact he takes possession of us, guiding us up the crooked alleys and out on the housetops which command the best views, and showing us off to his friends; an old gentleman who is spinning goats' hair for the coarse black tents (St. Paul's trade), and two ladies who are grinding corn in a hand-mill, one pushing and the other pulling. Our self-elected guide has spent seven years in Illinois and Indiana, peddling and store-keeping. He has returned to Rasheiya as a successful adventurer and built a stone house with a red roof and an arched portico. Is he going to settle down there for life? "I not know," says he. "Guess I want sell my house now. This country beautiful; I like look at her. But America free—good government—good place to live. Gee whiz ! I go back quick, you bet."



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