Fragrance in Travel Literature- The Crescent and the Cross by Eliot Warburton

The crescent and the cross : romance and realities of eastern travel ([1908?])
Warburton, Eliot, 1810-1852


The following night, a merry English party
dined together on board Lord Exmouth's boat, as it lay moored
off the Isle of Rhoda ; conversation had sunk into silence, as
the calm night came on ; a faint breeze floated perfumes from
the gardens over the star-lit Nile, and scarcely moved the
clouds that rose from the chibouque ; a dreamy languor
seemed to pervade all nature, and even the city lay hushed
in deep repose — when suddenly a boat, crowded with dark
figures among which arms gleamed, shot out from one of the
arches of the palace ; it paused under the opposite bank,
where the water rushed deep and gloomily along, and for a
moment a white figure glimmered along the boat's dark crew ;
there was a slight movement and a faint splash — and then —
the river flowed on as merrily as if poor Eatima still sang her
Georgian song to the murmur of its waters.

In a constant yet varying succession of such scenes, we
advance hourly toward the south. Brighter suns, and
starrier skies, and stranger scenery — wilder, lonelier — more
silent — receive us : — sometimes we travel for hours and even
days through the desert, where nothing but a narrow band of
green, that feeds itself from the river exhalations, is visible
besides. Then we enter tracts of richly green meadows,
flushed with flowers, or wide fields of the blossoming bean
that fill the air with their delicious and delicate perfume.
Here are gardens of cucumbers, fenced round with twigs and
stalks of Indian corn ; there, fields of the Indian corn itself,
a very forest of yellow grain ; there, there are little farms of
lupines, millet, and sweet pea ; banks, gold-speckled with
melons ; and, haply, a crocodile or two basking beneath them
on the sands, like dragons guarding the golden fruit of the
Hesperides.

From the rich gardens all round us rise numbers of cottages ;
and, as the sun is low, their gaily dressed inhabitants come
forth on the fiat roofs to breathe the cool breezes, and enjoy
their pipes and coffee. There is a joyous, an almost festive
look in all around us ; the acacia blossoms are dancing in the
breeze, the palms are waving salutations, and the flowers are
flirting with one another in blushes and perfumed whisper-
ings : the faint plash of the wave is echoed from the rocks ;
the hum of the distant city is broken by the rattle of the
drum, and pierced by the fife with its wild Turkish music :
flocks of pigeons rustle through the air, and to their cooing
the woodpecker keeps time like a castanet, while the seabirds
scream an occasional accompaniment.

The rainbow mists of morning are still heavy on the landscape
while you sip your coffee ; but by the time you spring into
the saddle all is clear and bright, and you feel, while you press
the sides of your eager horse, and the stirring influence of
morning buoys you up, as if fatigue could never come. The
breeze, full of Nature's perfume and Nature's music, blusters
merrily round your turban as you gallop to the summit of
some hill to watch the Syrian sunrise spread in glory over
Lebanon, Hermon, or Mount Carmel. Meanwhile, your tent
is struck ; your various luggage packed upon the horses, with
a completeness and celerity that only the wandering Arab can
attain to, and a heap of ashes alone remains to mark the site
of your transient home. Your cavalcade winds slowly along
the beaten path, but you have many a castled crag, or woody
glen, or lonely ruin to explore : and your untiring Arab
courser seems ever fresh and vigorous as when he started.


Come
away to the Nile ! Here are sunshines that are never clouded ;
and fragrant airs as gentle as a maiden's whisper, instead of
northern gales that howl round you as if you were an old
battlement. Here are nights all a-glow with stars, and a
crescent moon, that seems bowing to you by courtesy, not
bent double by rheumatism. Here is the highest species of
monastic retirement : you stand apart from the world ; you
see its inhabitants so widely differing from yourself in their
appearance, their habits, their hopes, and their fears, that you
are enabled to look upon man in the abstract, and to study
his phenomena comparatively without prejudice. As you
recede from Europe further and further on, towards the silent
regions of the Past, you live more and more in that Past :
the river over which you glide — the desert, the forest, the
very air you breathe — are calm ; the temples in their awful
solitudes, the colossal statues, the tombs, with their guardian
sphinxes, all are profoundly calm ; and at length even your
island restlessness softens down and merges into the universal
peace around.

We passed Edfou in the night, and awoke to the view of
scenery altogether differing from that which had accompanied
us so long. A low line of hills had started up from the
level land, here and there pinnacled by a ruined tower, a sole
survivor and testimony of cities, nameless now even to the
imaginative antiquary. These hills open into glens, once
gardens, perhaps, or populous thoroughfares ; but now the
lonely Arab goatherd, or the wolf, is the only disturber of
their silence. Not a village is in sight, but a belt of the
richest vegetation borders the river ; waving corn, some
green, some golden ; lupines in flower, beans, and other
fragrant blossoms. This is bordered by a line of rushes, and
then the desert spreads abroad its interminable tracts of low
sandy undulations.

There is something very romantic in the Arab mode of life,
which never seems to lose its zest ; their love of the desert
amounts to a passion, and every one who has wandered with
these wild sons of freedom where all else are slaves, can
understand the feeling. It is not to be imagined that in this
desert there is only barren sand and naked rock ; far different
is the aspect that their picturesque encampments present.
Small flowering shrubs and fragrant thickets diversify wide
savannahs, on which dry, sunburnt grass only serves as shelter
for soft and tender herbage: there the wild boar and the
gazelle abound, and the partridge makes merry in his security.

The effect of this pleasant gloom, the cool currents of air
created by the narrow streets, the vividness of the bazaars,
the variety and beauty of the Oriental dress, the fragrant
smell of the spice-shops, the tinkle of the brass cups of the
seller of sherbets — all this affords a pleasant but bewildering
change from the silent desert and the glare of sunshine.
And then the glimpses of places strange to your eye, yet
familiar to your imagination, that you catch as you pass
along. Here is the portal of a large khan, with a fountain
and cistern in the midst. Camels and bales of merchandise
and turbaned negroes are scattered over its wide quadrangle,
and an arcade of shops or offices surrounds it, above and
below, like the streets of Chester. Another portal opens into
a public bath, with its fountains, its reservoirs, its gay carpets,
and its luxurious inmates, clothed in white linen, and reclin-
ing upon cushions as they smoke their chibouques.

A full moon shone upon the wild, wide, lonely scene, and
made curious illusions with the rocks and bushes by the way-
side, by which everything imaginable, from crouching demon
to crawling Arab, was represented.

My maps were with my luggage, and I had only a slight
sketch from Arrowsmith's very inaccurate map to guide me
over the waste. In following its guidance, I repeatedly lost
my way, until a light on a far mountain-side announced a
village. Riding up to this, I found most of its inhabitants
sleeping in the open air outside their houses. One of the
women waking up, very civilly directed me ; and, after another
weary hour's ride through fragrant lanes of gum-cistus and
wild roses, I reached the pretty little village of Zebdani. This
is consecrated by the pleasant association of being the spot
wherein Cain murdered Abel, and here I found my tent, in
which I was soon soundly asleep.

Gradually the chattering ceased; one by one the inhabi-
tants retired to their distant village ; the salaams died away ;
and I was left alone, but for the sleeping servants. All was
in fine harmony to sight and sound around me; all nature
seemed in profoundest rest, yet palpitating with a quiet
pleasure : the stars thrilled with intense lustre in the azure
sky, the watch-fire now and then gleamed through the heavy
foliage ; its fragrance, for it was of cedar-wood, stole gratefully
over the tranced senses —
And not a breath crept through the rosy air,
And yet the forest leaves seemed stirred with prayer.

We went one evening from the ambassador's palace to
visit Unkiar Skelessi, an old fortress crowning one of the
Asiatic hills. The sunset was magnificent, and the Bosphorus
beneath us seemed one sheet of burning gold ; while far
away, over hill, and vale, and ruined tower, and broken
aqueduct, the crimson light lent a new charm and marvel
to the splendid landscape. Yet when the sun was gone, he
could scarcely be regretted ; evening came on with so beauti-
ful and bright an aspect, with such diamond stars, and azure
sky, and fragrant flower-smells, and softened sounds. As we
glided away from that grand old castle of the Genoese, it
seemed restored by the doubtful light to all its strength ; the
hanging woods and beetling cliffs were reflected in the star-
spangled stream ; the air seemed exquisitely sensitive to the
faint fragrance and the distant song ; and it was like the
breaking of a spell when the caique struck lightly against
the marble terrace of the Palazzo.

A venerable gardener, with a long white beard, received us
at the entrance, and conducted us through the fairy-like
garden, of which he might have passed for the guardian genius.
There were very few flowers ; but shade and greenery are
everything in this glaring climate ; and it was passing
pleasant to stroll along these paths all shadowy with orange-
trees, whose fruit, 'like lamps in a night of green,' hung
temptingly over our heads. The fragrance of large beds of
roses mingled with that of the orange flower, and seemed to
repose on the quiet airs of that calm evening. In the midst
of the garden we came to a vast pavilion, glittering like
porcelain, and supported on light pillars, forming cloisters that
surrounded an immense marble basin, in the centre of which
sparkling waters gushed from a picturesque fountain.

If the day, with all the tyranny of its sunshine and its
innumerable insects, be enjoyable in the Tropics, the night is
still more so. The stars shine out with diamond brilliancy,
and appear as large as if seen through a telescope. Their
changing colours, the wake of light they cast upon the water,
the distinctness of the Milky Way, and the splendour, above
all, of the evening star, give one the impression of being
under a different firmament from that to which we have been
accustomed ; then, the cool, delicious airs of night, with all
the strange and stilly sounds they bear from the desert and
the forest ; the delicate scents they scatter, and the languid
breathings with which they make our large white sails
appear to pant, as they flutter softly over the water.

The scenery resembled that of the wildest glens of Scotland,
only that here the grey crags were thickly tufted witth aromatic
shrubs ; and, instead of the pine, the sycamore, the olive, and
the palm shaded the mountain's side.

I lingered long upon that mountain's brow, and thought
that, so far from deserving all the dismal epithets that have been
bestowed upon it, I had not seen so cheerful or attractive a
scene in Palestine. That luxuriant valley was beautiful as
one great pleasure-ground — its bosks and groves of aromatic
shrubs, intermingled with sloping glades and verdant valleys :
the City of Palms might still be hidden under that forest
whence the old castle just shows its battlements : the plains
of Gilgal might still be full of prosperous people, with cottages
concealed under that abundant shade ; and the dread sea
itself shines and sparkles as if its waters rolled in pure and
refreshing waves ' o'er coral rocks and amber beds ' alone.

On we went, among gardens, and fountains, and odours, and
cool shade, absorbed in sensations of delight, like the knights
of old who had just passed from some ordeal to its reward.
Fruits of every delicate shape and hue bended the boughs
hospitably over our heads ; flowers hung in canopy upon the
trees, and lay in variegated carpet on the ground ; the lanes
through which we went were long arcades of arching boughs ;
the walls were composed of large square blocks of dried mud,
which in that bright, dazzling light somewhat resembled Cyclo-
pean architecture, and gave I know not what of simplicity
and primitiveness to the scene. At length I entered the city,
and thenceforth lost the sun while I remained there. The
luxurious people of Damascus exclude all sunshine from their
bazaars by awnings of thick mat, wherever vine-trellises or
vaulted roofs do not render this precaution unnecessary.

The setting sun threw his last shadows on the distant
Pyramids as we lay upon the marble steps, inhaling the
odours of the orange and pomegranate groves — dreamily listen-
ing to the vespers of the busy birds, the far-off hum of the
city, and the faint murmur of the great river.


Some khan, or convent, or bubbling spring marks your
resting-place during the burning noon: and you are soon
a^ain in motion, with all the exhilaration of a second morning.
Your path is as varied as your thoughts ; now over slippery
crags, upon some view-commanding mountain's brow ; now,
along verdant valleys, or through some ravine, where the
winter torrent was the last passenger. Oleanders in rich
bloom are scattered over the green turf ; your horse treads
odours out of a carpet of wildflowers ; strange birds of
brilliant plumage are darting from bough to bough of the wild
myrtle and the lemon-tree; lizards are gleaming among the
rocks ; and the wide sea is so calm, and bright, and mirror-
like, that the solitary ship upon its bosom seems suspended,
like Mahomet's coffin, between two skies.

We wandered through many chambers, in which the air is
so calm and undisturbed, that the very smell of the torches
of the last explorers of these caverns was perceptible.