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Title: A Dweller in Mesopotamia - Being the Adventures of an Official Artist in the Garden of Eden
Author: Maxwell, Donald, 1877-1936
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A DWELLER IN MESOPOTAMIA

Being the Adventures of an Official Artist in the Garden of Eden

by

DONALD MAXWELL

With Sketches in Colour, Monochrome, and Line



  +-------------------------- +
  |                           |
  | _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_      |
  |                           |
  +-------------------------- +
  |                           |
  | THE LAST CRUSADE          |
  | ADVENTURES WITH A         |
  | SKETCH BOOK               |
  |                           |
  | WITH BIBLE AND BRUSH      |
  | IN PALESTINE              |
  | [_In preparation_]        |
  |                           |
  +-------------------------- +
  |                           |
  | THE BODLEY HEAD           |
  |                           |
  +-------------------------- +



[Illustration: THE GOLDEN TOWERS OF KHADAMAIN]



[Illustration]



London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, Vigo Street New York: John Lane
Company MCMXXI
William Clowes and Sons, Limited, London and Beccles, England.



PREFACE


Few adventurous incidents in our lives seem romantic at the time of
their happening, and few places we visit are invested with that glamour
that haunt them in recollection or anticipation. I remember comparing
the colour scheme of a barge in Baghdad with that of one in Rochester.
It was a comparison most unfavourable to Baghdad--a thing the colour of
ashes with a thing of red and green and gold. Yet now that I am back in
Rochester, the romance lingers around memories of dusty mahailas. It is
easy to forget discomfort and insects and feel a certain glamour coming
back to things which, at the time, represented the commonplaces of life.
There certainly _is_ a glamour about Mesopotamia. It is not so much the
glamour of the present as of the past.

To have travelled in the land where Sennacherib held sway, to have
walked upon the Sacred Way in Babylon, to have stood in the great
banquet hall of Belshazzar's palace when the twilight is raising ghosts
and when little imagination would be required to see the fingers of a
man's hand come forth and write upon the plaster of the wall, to wander
in the moonlight into narrow streets in Old Baghdad, with its
recollections of the Arabian Nights: these things are to make enduring
pictures in the Palace of Memory, that ideal collection where only the
good ones are hung and all are on the line.

Although it was for the Imperial War Museum that I went to Mesopotamia,
these notes are not about the War, but they are a series of impressions
of Mesopotamia in general. The technical side of my work I have omitted,
and any account of the campaign in this field I have left to other
hands. The sketches here collected might be described as a bye-product
of my mission in Mesopotamia; but most of them are the property of the
Imperial War Museum, and it is by the courtesy of the Art Committee of
that body that I have now been able to reproduce them.

                                          THE BEACON,
                                               BORSTAL,
                                                 ROCHESTER.

  _June_ 12, 1920.



  CONTENTS

                                                                     PAGE
     I. THE FIERY FURNACE                                              1

    II. THE VENICE OF THE EAST                                        15

   III. SINBAD THE SOLDIER                                            27

    IV. THE WISE MEN FROM THE WEST                                    37

     V. BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON                                      49

    VI. ARABIAN NIGHTS IN 1919                                        67

   VII. IN OLD BAGHDAD                                                89

  VIII. PARADISE LOST                                                 97

    IX. THE DESERT OF THE FLAMING SWORD                              109

     X. THE KINGS OF THE EAST                                        119



  LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  PLATES IN COLOUR AND MONOCHROME


  THE GOLDEN TOWERS OF KHADAMAIN                           _Frontispiece_

  ABADAN, PERSIA, THE OIL QUAYS                                        4

  H.M.S. _MANTIS_, ONE OF THE MONITORS ON THE TIGRIS                  12

  HOSPITAL HULKS AT BASRA                                             18

  "THE SOLEMN PALMS WERE RANGED ABOVE, UNWOO'D OF SUMMER WIND"        22

  THE HOUSE OF SINBAD THE SAILOR, BASRA                               24

  A BEND IN "THE NARROWS" OF THE TIGRIS                               30

  A MARSH ARABS' REED VILLAGE                                         34

  MUD HOUSES ON THE TIGRIS                                            40

  A MAHAILA OF THE INLAND WATER TRANSPORT                             42

  EZRA'S TOMB                                                         44

  ON THE EUPHRATES, EARLY MORNING                                     52

  BABYLON, THE EXCAVATIONS AT EL-KASR                                 56

  AN OLD WORLD CRAFT: A TYPE OF BOAT UNCHANGED SINCE THE DAYS OF
   SINBAD                                                             60

  BELLAMS UNDER SAIL                                                  62

  BABYLON THE GREAT IS FALLEN, IS FALLEN                              64

  A STREET IN KHADAMAIN                                               70

  MOONLIGHT, BAGHDAD                                                  72

  A NOCTURNE OF BAGHDAD                                               74

  MAHAILA AND MARSH ARAB'S BELLAM                                     80

  A MOONLIGHT FANTASY: KUT, FROM THE RUINS OF THE LICQUORICE FACTORY  94

  DAWN AT AMARA                                                      100

  A BACKWATER IN EDEN                                                102

  PUFFING BILLY ON THE TIGRIS                                        106

  SUNSET ON THE TIGRIS                                               112

  SHEIK SAAD AND THE PERSIAN MOUNTAINS                               114

  HIT, KNOWN TO THE ARABS AS THE MOUTH OF HELL                       116

  A BRITISH CRUISER IN THE PERSIAN GULF                              122



  LIST OF LINE SKETCHES


  ABADAN                                                               2

  "SERRIED RANKS OF TALL IRON FUNNELS"                                 6

  SHIP LOADING WITH OIL                                                7

  "A MYSTERIOUS-LOOKING FURNACE TOWER"                                 9

  "CRUDE STEAM ENGINES EVOLVED BY TITANS WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG"    11

  IN ASHAR CREEK                                                      16

  SUNSET, OLD BASRA                                                   21

  DHOWS, BASRA                                                        26

  MONITOR "MOTH" AT BASRA                                             28

  THE SIRENS OF THE NARROWS                                           33

  NOAH'S ARK, 1919                                                    36

  UPWARD BOUND ON THE TIGRIS                                          38

  HILLAH                                                              47

  CTESIPHON                                                           50

  ANCIENT IRRIGATION CHANNEL NEAR HILLAH                              55

  TOWER OF BABEL. FIG. 1                                              57

  THE TOWER OF BABEL                                                  59

  TOWER OF BABEL. FIG. 2                                              60

  TOWER OF BABEL. FIG. 3                                              61

  GOUFAS ON THE TIGRIS                                                68

  "A MAGIC VIGNETTE OF PALMS, EASTERN BUILDINGS, AND A LARGE
   SOUTH-WESTERN RAILWAY ENGINE"                                      77

  "SUDDENLY WE CAME UPON A SCENE OF STRANGE BEAUTY AND DRAMATIC
    EFFECT"                                                            79

  "BY GARDEN PORCHES ON THE BRIM, THE COSTLY DOORS FLUNG OPEN WIDE"   82

  "ALL ROUND THE FRAGRANT MARGE, FROM FLUTED VASE AND BRAZEN
    URN, IN ORDER, EASTERN FLOWERS LARGE."                             83

  "BY BAGHDAD'S SHRINES OF FRETTED GOLD, HIGH-WALLED GARDENS, GREEN
    AND OLD."                                                          85

  SHOWING THE SIMPLICITY OF MESOPOTAMIAN DOMESTIC
   ARCHITECTURE. TIGRIS                                               88

  BAGHDAD                                                             90

  "PUFFING BILLY" IN BAGHDAD                                          91

  A BIT OF OLD BAGHDAD                                                93

  "BLOSSOMS AND FRUIT AT ONCE OF GOLDEN HUE APPEARED, WITH GAY
   ENAMELLED COLOURS MIXED."                                          98

  "HIGH, EMINENT, BLOOMING AMBROSIAL FRUIT OF VEGETABLE GOLD."       105

  THE WALLS OF HIT                                                   110

  HIT                                                                120

  SAMARA                                                             121



I

THE FIERY FURNACE

[Illustration: Abadan.]

[Illustration]



THE FIERY FURNACE


There is an unenviable competition between places situated in the region
of Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf as to which can be the hottest.
Abadan, the ever-growing oil port, which is in Persia and on the
starboard hand as you go up the Shatt-el-Arab, if not actually the
winner according to statistics, comes out top in popular estimation. Its
proximity to the scorching desert, its choking dustiness and its
depressing isolation, are characteristics which it shares with countless
other places among these mud plains. But it can outdo them all with its
bleached and slime-stained ground in which nothing can grow, its
roaring furnaces and its all-pervading smell of hot oil.

Across the broad waters of the Shatt-el-Arab there stretches a lonely
strip of country bounded by a wall of palm-tops. Like all the land here
it is cultivated as long as it borders the river and thickly planted
with date groves. Then lies a nondescript belt that just divides the
desert from the sown, and then, a mile or so inland, scorched and
unprofitable wilderness.

Into this monotonous spiked sky-line the sun was wont to cut his fiery
way without much variety of effect every evening, and night rushed down,
bringing respite from this heat; for it is happily one of the
compensations of life in these parts that the nights are cool, however
hot the day.

About 150 miles from this busy spot lie the oilfields of the
Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Two adventurous iron pipes start courageously
with crude oil and conduct it by or through or over every obstacle from
these wells to Abadan. In the early days of the war great and successful
efforts were made to protect this line of supply, which was of vital
importance to the British Navy. The Turks lost Fao, the fort that
commanded the entrance to the Shatt-el-Arab, within a few days of the
opening of hostilities. They had imagined it such a formidable obstacle
to our approach that they were thrown suddenly on their beam ends when
we took it. Consequently they could not keep us out of Abadan, but fell
back on Beit Naama vainly attempting to block the river by sinking
ships. One of the hulks, however, swung round and left a channel
through which a passage was simple. I once sketched some of these old
ships as they lay throughout the period of hostilities. Since then they
have been partially blown up. A divers' boat was at work when I made my
drawing and the first charge was fired about three minutes after I had
finished, removing the funnel and one mast of the principal derelict.

[Illustration: ABADAN, PERSIA, THE OIL QUAYS]

Well, to begin my story.

It was evening. The sun was setting in the orthodox manner described
above. Abadan was looking very much as usual. The smoke was smoking, the
pumps were pumping, the works were working, and all the oilers along the
quay, like all well-behaved oilers, were oiling.

As if to protest against the frankly commercial atmosphere of everything
and everybody at Abadan, a dhow that might have belonged to Sinbad the
Sailor himself was making slow headway before the failing breeze under a
huge spread of bellying canvas--an apparition from another age, relieved
boldly against the dark hull of a tank steamer.

The flood tide had spent itself and the river seemed unusually still as
twilight deepened and the many lights of the works wriggled in long
reflection in the water. A spell of enchantment seemed to lie over
everything, and the faint purring hum from the distant oil blast
furnaces pervaded the still air. Old Sinbad came to anchor and night set
in.

This is all very peaceful and picturesque to write about now, but at the
time I was in a motor boat that had left Mahommerah to take me for a
run and it had broken down and seemed unlikely to start again in spite
of all the coxswain's efforts. Consequently we were drifting about on
the stream and likely to be swept down by the ebb tide. We were
unfortunately on the far side of the river from Abadan, and consequently
our plight would not be observed from the works. The situation was not a
pleasant one because we stood a very good chance of being run down by
some incoming steamer.

[Illustration: "Serried ranks of tall iron funnels."]

When it was clear that we should drift down below the region of the oil
quays I thought we would see what our lungs could do. Timing our shouts
together, the coxswain and I, we sent up a tremendous hail to the lowest
of the piers. Again and again we startled the night, until at last we
heard an answering hallo.

In a few minutes a motor-boat bore down upon us. It was the British Navy
in the shape of an engineer lieutenant commander. He took us in tow,
carried me off to his bungalow, arranged about the boat being berthed
and looked after till the morning, and proved a most cheery soul full of
good looks and given to hospitality. When I explained my job he roared
with laughter.

"Just the right time to arrive," he said. "Subject one, Abadan at night
complete with tanks; subject two, works, oil, one in number--sketched in
triplicate--why, my Lords Commissioners will be awfully bucked. They've
put a couple of millions into this show, you know. Say 'when,' it can't
hurt you, special Abadan brand."

[Illustration: Ship loading with oil.]

I said "when." I kept on saying "when," and then as a measure of
self-protection suggested sketching the works while I could distinguish
tanks from palm trees. So we went out and had a preliminary look round,
reserving the "Grand Tour of the Inferno," as my host named our
projected expedition, until after dinner.

I will not attempt to explain the processes of oil refining. I am merely
concerned in narrating what it looks like. I know little beyond the fact
that the crude oil arrives by pipe from the oilfields by means of
several pumping stations and that it is cooked or distilled over
furnaces and converted into different grade oils from petrol to heavy
fuel oil. As a spectacle, however, I found a journey through this weird
region most fascinating and mysterious. At night it appears as a vast
plain gleaming with lights and studded with dark objects, half seen and
suggesting primitive machinery of uncouth proportions. Huge lengths of
pipes creep from the shadows on one hand into the far-off regions of
blackness on the other.

Armed with an electric torch, which the Chief carried, and a large
sketch-book which I regretted taking almost as soon as we started, we
set out on our quest of Dantesque scenery. At first our road ran along
the quays by the river side. A camouflaged Admiralty oiler was loading
fuel oil by means of three pipes that looked like the tentacles of an
octopus clutching on to the side of the ship. Near this quay was a gate,
and we entered the wire fence that surrounds the works and the area of
the tanks and struck out over a dark waste.

The novice who roams about this place in the dark spends a lot of time
falling over pipes. They are stretching all over the place without any
method that is apparent. The Chief showed up most of them with his
torch, and so I fell about only just enough to get used to the feel of
the ground as a preliminary to what was coming later. It had rained
heavily two or three days before, consequently there were lake
districts, slimy reaches of mixed oil and mud and dried, hard-looking
islands that were in reality traps to the unwary. The top only was firm,
and it had the playful property of sliding rapidly on the greasy
substratum and thus sitting you down without warning when you thought
you had reached dry land.

[Illustration: "A mysterious-looking furnace tower."]

Had I known more about Abadan before I started I would have taken a
course of lessons in tight-rope walking, for that seems to be a great
asset in getting along. The Chief was quite a Blondin. He could walk or
run any length of pipe and never swerve. Much practice had made him an
adept. There were places where the only alternative to walking in mud
and water was this balancing feat along the pipe lines.

When I had fallen several times and covered myself with a mixture that
looked like grey condensed milk mixed with butter and felt like a
poultice, I got my second wind. I was still recognizable as a human
being. All fear of making myself in a worse mess had vanished, and thus,
freed from nervousness, I began to get quite daring. The Chief saw in me
the making of a first-class pipe walker, and prophesied that I should be
able to attain the speed of three miles an hour. I still fell off,
however, enough not to get a swelled head on the subject.

After what to me seemed miles, and which as a matter of fact must have
been about five hundred yards, we emerged from the lake region and
were able to find a track along the ground. It skirted a railway line
and led toward some buildings and machinery. A dull glow began to
illuminate the scene and show up our path.

[Illustration: "Crude steam engines evolved by Titans when the world was
young."]

A building loomed up against the sky. It was dimly lit by firelight and
suggested to me a glimpse of the Tower of London with the corner turrets
knocked off. In front of this were some vast boilers with uncouth
chimneys stretching out of sight into the dark sky. The whole thing,
weird and eerie, was reflected in pools of water, through which black
figures toiled and splashed, pushing some loaded trollies. Then we came
out into a lighted area at the foot of a mysterious-looking furnace
tower, where strangely clad men, not unlike tattered and disreputable
monks, were hauling at a great black object, some boiler or piece of
machinery.

The workmen on closer view showed that they were dressed in sacking or
some such rough material in a sort of tunic. They wore long curly hair
and curious hats that looked like Assyrian helmets.

"What race are these men?" I asked the Chief.

"They are the Medes and Persians," he replied.

"And what is that tower?"

"Oh, that--," he paused for a few seconds, "that's Nebuchadnezzar's
Fiery Furnace heated seven times hotter."

He was evidently determined to do me well from the point of view of
local colour and picturesque Biblical association. I think, however,
he missed a chance when later on we saw mysterious writing in Arabic
characters upon the wall of an engine house. He should at least have
read it out as MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

[Illustration: H.M.S. _MANTIS_, ONE OF THE MONITORS ON THE TIGRIS]

Abadan is on an island and the pipe line crosses the water from the
mainland. We could see it stretching away across the flat land into the
darkness where the sky-line of the palm belt by the waterside was just
visible. It is strange to reflect that all this scene of careless
activity is dependent on those two pipes, each about 14 inches in
diameter, connecting it with a point 150 miles away.

I came again in the morning to look at the works. They did not appear
half so mysterious as when seen in the dark. The Tower of London had
shrunk into quite a small buttressed building of brick and
Nebuchadnezzar's Fiery Furnace dwindled considerably in size. The Medes
and Persians, on the other hand, looked wilder and more "operatic" than
at night. I think as a matter of fact they were Kurds.

It is a very simple style of get-up to imitate. For purposes of private
theatricals I will tell you how to do it, in case you should find the
stage direction, "_Alarums and excursions. Enter the Medes and
Persians._"

Take a very tattered, colourless, and ill-fitting dressing gown, without
a girdle and flopping about untidily. Wear long black curly hair to
shoulder. Put plenty of grease on. Then knock handle off a
round-bottomed saucepan, very sooty, and place on your head. Dirty your
face and you might walk about Abadan without attracting notice.

I daresay if I knew something technical about the refining of oil I
should not find these works so fascinating. There is always a glamour
about a thing only half understood. Probably the retorts and boilers and
all the apparatus here are of the very latest pattern, yet so strangely
unlike modern machinery do they seem that I find myself wondering if I
have gone back into some previous age and unearthed strange things of
prehistoric antiquity. These solemn-looking turbaned Indians might be
tending the first uncouth monsters of engineering--the antediluvians of
machinery. These serried ranks of tall iron funnels, these rude furnaces
fed by crawling snakes of piping, these roaring domes of fire might be
crude steam engines evolved by Titans when the world was young.

[Illustration]



II

THE VENICE OF THE EAST.

[Illustration: In Ashar creek.]

[Illustration]



THE VENICE OF THE EAST


Before the war, when Mesopotamia was a more distant land than it is
to-day, Basra was often referred to as the Venice of the East. Few
travellers were in a position to test the accuracy of the comparison,
and so it aroused little comment. No Venetians had returned from Basra
burning with indignation and filled with a desire to get even with the
writer who first thought of the parallel, probably because no Venetian
had ever been there.

A few simple souls, who had delighted in the mediæval splendours of
Venice, dreamed of a Venice still more romantic--a Venice with all her
glories of art tinged with the glamour and witchery of the Arabian
Nights, a Venice whose blue waterways reflected stately palms and golden
minarets. Other souls, like myself, less simple and sufficiently salted
to know that these Turnerian dreams are generally the magical accidents
of changing light and seldom the result of any intrinsic interest in the
places themselves--even they had a grievance when they saw the real
Basra. Was this the Venice of the East, this squalid place beside
soup-coloured waters? Was this the city that reveals the past splendours
of Haroun Alraschid as Venice reveals the golden age of Titian and the
Doges?

The first general impression of Basra is that of an unending series of
quays along a river not unlike the Thames at Tilbury. The British India
boats and other transports lying in the stream or berthed at the wharves
might be at Gravesend and the grey-painted County Council "penny
steamboats" at their moorings in the river look very much as they looked
in the reach below Charing Cross Bridge.

Another thing which makes the contrast between Venice and Basra rather a
painful one is the complete and noticeable absence of anything of the
slightest architectural interest in this Eastern (alleged) counterpart
of the Bride of the Adriatic. Whereas in Venice the antiquarian can
revel in examples of many centuries of diverse domestic architecture
from ducal palace to humble fisherman's dwelling on an obscure "back
street" canal, in Basra there abounds a great deal of rickety rubbish
that never had any interest in itself and which depends for its
effect on the flattering gilding of the sun and the intangible glamour
of Eastern twilight. In fact Basra might be described from an
architectural point of view as a great heap of insanitary and ill-built
rubbish which can look collectively extraordinarily picturesque.
I have seen bits on Ashar Creek (as for instance the wooden
old-tin-and-straw-mat-covered buildings shown in the centre of the
sketch in the heading to this chapter) look most romantic and beautiful.
Yet they will not bear any close inspection, without revealing
themselves as monuments of slovenliness and dirt.

[Illustration: HOSPITAL HULKS AT BASRA]

In spite, however, of these drawbacks and disappointments, to those who
would find Venetian character by the waters of Mesopotamia, there are
two features in Basra that do undoubtedly bring Venice to mind--the
boats and the canals. The bellam is a long, flat-bottomed boat not
unlike a punt but narrowing at each end to a point, the stem and
stern-post alike ending in a high curved piece suggestive of a gondola.
These craft are propelled by two men standing one at each end like
gondoliers and punting the boat along by poles. If the water is too deep
to bottom it they sit and propel the boat with paddles.

The canals of Basra are multitudinous. They are artificially dug and are
really more canals than creeks, although they are always called creeks.
Ashar Creek is the most important of these waterways. It is generally
packed with craft from big mahailas, the type of vessel shown in the
sketch facing page 16, to the ubiquitous bellam. Old Basra lies up here.
As I approached it one evening, with the sun going down, it looked most
gorgeous. Palms and gardens on the right and the buildings of the town
on the left, and boats approaching, dream-like In the sunset glow. I
have sketched the effect roughly in the line drawing on page 21.

Some of the regions up these creeks are extremely beautiful. For once
there was nothing disappointing even in comparison--although
comparisons, as we have seen, are odious--with Venetian waterways. For
once we have something that can surpass in beauty anything that Venice
can show. Basra can boast no architecture, but Nature, coming to her
assistance, can produce, between sunshine and water, vistas of
orange-laden trees overtopped with palms and all reflected in the still
canal. I have known seven kinds of fruit to overhang the banks of one
creek at the same time.

[Illustration: Sunset, Old Basra.]

I hired a bellam manned by two fearsome-looking pirates and explored
unending waterways in and around Basra. The main thoroughfares run at
right angles to the river, but there are numerous narrow branches
communicating from one to the other, in some places forming a network of
little channels. Some of these were beautiful beyond description. The
tide is felt in all these waters, and sometimes, during a spring tide,
the effect of some of these date palm plantations, with the ground just
covered, is strange. Hundreds of palms seem to be growing up out of a
lake, and the glades reflected in the still water is dream-like and
enchanting, recalling Tennyson's nocturne--

  "Until another night in night
   I enter'd, from the clearer light,
   Imbower'd vaults of piller'd palm."

The pirates were quite jolly fellows who pointed out various things to
me as being worthy of interest. By this time the natives have got up, in
a most superficial way, the things which they think will interest the
Englishman. Every group of palm trees more than twenty in number is
pointed out as the Garden of Eden, every bump of ground more than six
feet high is the mount on which the Ark rested, and every building more
than fifty years old is the one undoubted and authentic residence of
Sinbad the Sailor. An old house in Mesopotamia in which Sinbad the
Sailor had _not_ lived would be equivalent to one of England's ancient
country mansions in which Queen Elizabeth had never slept. The fact that
Sinbad the Sailor is a literary creation doesn't discourage the Arabs in
the least.

During this voyage of mine by bellam through the multitudinous creeks of
Basra a remarkable thing happened. Under the circumstances it was a
providential happening. _I ran into Brown_.

[Illustration: ".... THE SOLEMN PALMS WERE RANGED ABOVE, UNWOO'D OF
SUMMER WIND"--_Recollections of the Arabian Nights_]

Now I do not expect the readers of some previous notes of my sketching
escapades[1] to believe this. It is almost too wonderful that a
chronicler of travels in desperate need of some comic relief to save his
book from dulness would be so lucky as to pick up such excellent copy as
Brown, without previous intrigue. Nevertheless I do solemnly state that
I had not the slightest idea where Brown was doing his bit in the war. I
had last heard of him in France in the Naval Division. That we should
both have travelled half across the world to meet with a crash in a
backwater at Basra was one of the strangest freaks of fortune I have
come across.

My two pirates were poling along quite merrily when we took a right
angle turn in fine style. It is evident that the low foliage had hidden
the side channel into which we shot, and they had not seen what became
evident too late, a motor-boat at right angles across the creek,
apparently stuck fast.

I had just time to observe two naval officers and the native coxswain
struggling with poles to turn the boat round, or free it from its
unserviceable position with regard to the bank when the prow of my
bellam took a flying leap over the motor-boat, precipitating my two
boatmen into the water, and sending me by means of a somersault into the
launch. Somewhat stunned I lay gazing up at a piece of blue sky in which
I could discern the green leaves of palm trees.

When in the midst of this blue dome above I beheld Brown perched on the
top of a palm tree exhibiting with a look of blank astonishment on his
face, waving an arm as if in a kind of bewildered greeting, I gave up
the struggle for existence and became resigned to my fate. Without doubt
Brown, whom I had last heard of in France, had been killed and was now
doing his best to welcome me into a happier and better world.

It would be quite like Brown to try and outdo the ordinarily accepted
symbolism of bearing a palm branch by attempting to wave a whole palm
tree, for this he seemed most undoubtedly to be doing, embracing its
trunk and swaying from side to side.

Subsequently, when things had sorted themselves out in my mind, and when
I found I was still in the land of the living I realized that he was
attempting to descend to earth. He was no less astonished than I.

After baling out the bellam and restoring order in the launch we found
that the casualties were nil, and proceeded to compare notes. Brown, it
appeared, had joined the Naval Division, been to Antwerp, Gallipoli and
France, and then been transferred for gunnery duties to the rivers of
Mesopotamia, and was now Lieut. R.N.V.R. in the _Dalhousie_ stationed at
Basra. His occupation, when I came across him in this unexpected way,
was that of a leader of an expedition in a motor-boat with two R.N.
victims to find a new route to somewhere or other which could not
possibly be approached by water.

His enthusiasm had been so infectious that he had persuaded these
gallant and guileless officers to go with him, and was, at the moment of
my arrival, attempting to get a better geographical idea of the
surrounding country by climbing a palm tree and shouting directions to
the unfortunate occupants of the boat below, who were hopelessly stuck.
The sudden impact of the bellam, uncomfortable as it was for all
concerned, succeeded where they had failed, in getting them off the mud.

[Illustration: THE HOUSE OF SINBAD THE SAILOR, BASRA]

An old-world touch is given to the waters of Basra by the high-sterned
dhows anchored in the river. Above Ashar Creek the scenery of the banks
with its wharves and big steamers is not particularly characteristic of
the East. Some of it might be by the Thames at Tilbury Docks. But by
Khora Creek and in the lower reaches of the river at Basra, these
old-world ships, with their quaint lines and steep, naked masts, are
more in keeping with our recollections of Sinbad the Sailor, or perhaps
of the days of the Merchant Venturers of our own Elizabethan days.

It is to be supposed that the type of ship that has survived in the East
to the present day, like the mahaila and the goufa, is very much
unchanged like everything else, and tells us faithfully what sort of
ships there were in these waters some two thousand years ago or more. If
this surmise be a correct one, then we can trace the poop tower of the
_Great Harry_ and the square windows and super-imposed galleries of the
_Victory's_ stern to this common ancestor. I wish I had been able to get
an elevation of the details of one of these more ornate sterns. It would
be interesting to compare the work with that in the ships of the Middle
Ages and see if there is a definite development of type from East to
West via the Mediterranean.

We passed down Ashar Creek just after sunset, and the house of Sinbad,
with its picturesque surroundings, thoroughly looked the part. The tower
of the mosque stood out against a lemon-coloured sky, and wandering
wisps of purple smoke curled up from countless hearths.

Some giant mahailas, nearly obliterated the crooked little galleries
that overlook the creek, and a few boats glided silently down towards
the open river. Lights began to appear and stars studded the darkening
sky. Faint sounds of chanting music floated across the water and all the
world was still.

[Illustration: Dhows Basra.]



III

SINBAD THE SOLDIER

[Illustration: Monitor "Moth" at Basra.]

[Illustration]



SINBAD THE SOLDIER

After a few days among the waterways of Mesopotamia one can get hardened
against surprises. The most amazing and outrageous types of craft soon
meet the eye as commonplaces of river life. Things that would make a
Thames waterman sign the pledge proceed up and down without arousing any
comment. Noah's ark, with its full complement, could ply for hire
between Basra and Baghdad, and the lion's roaring would be accepted as
the necessary accompaniment of a somewhat old type of machinery
resuscitated for the war.

I have seen boats jostling each other cheek by jowl that might have been
taking part in a pageant entitled "Ships in All the Ages." There were
Thornycroft motor-boats and Sennacharib goufas, mahailas and Thames
steamboats, an oil-fuel gunboat and a stern paddler that could have come
out of a woodcut of the first steamboat on the Clyde--and all these in
the same reach. I travelled in this last extraordinary vessel for a
short time. She was in charge of a sergeant of the Inland Water
Transport, with an Indian pilot and miscellaneous crew, and my
adventurous cruise called to mind both the travels of Ulysses and the
Hunting of the Snark.

The sergeant could not speak Hindustani and the pilot could not speak a
word of English. Mistakes of the most frantic nature were common,
especially when we were being whirled round and round by the stream at a
difficult corner. In the midst of controversy unrelieved by any glimmer
of understanding on the part of anybody present we would slide
gracefully into a state of rest on a mudbank or bump violently against
the shore. Luckily, it seemed as easy to get off the mudbank as to get
on it, and we finally got into positions we wanted to for making
sketches of various points. The pantomimic violence of the sergeant,
together with diagrams in my sketch-book, were ultimately successful.

[Illustration: A BEND IN "THE NARROWS" OF THE TIGRIS]

Nearly all the Tigris steamers proceeding up river have loaded
lighters on each side of them. These act as fenders at the corners and
take the bump whenever the bank is encountered. The progress is slow and
there is often a good deal of waiting, for in the region between Ezra's
tomb (above Kurna) and Amara there is not room for two steamers thus
encumbered to pass with safety. These waters are known as the Narrows.
Signal stations are placed at various intervals, and a signal is made to
clear the way, generally for the down-river boat, the up-river craft,
which, with the stream against them, will not have to turn round in
stopping, tying up to the bank. This manoeuvre is done in a few
minutes. The steamer that is to stop runs alongside the bank and natives
with stakes jump out and drive them into the marsh ground. She moors to
these until the other vessel has passed downwards.

The sketch facing page 30 was done from a steamer bound
up-river, which had tied up under these conditions. The paddler coming
down has a lighter on each side of her as the one sketched on page 38.
She will come down toward the leading marks shown on the
right-hand side of the picture, and then slide along the bank,
using the lighter on the port side as a fender. Then she will leave the
bank and shoot across to the other side of the river, taking the next
turn with her starboard lighter.

This drawing will serve to show the general nature of most Mesopotamian
river scenery, dead flat, with nothing or little to relieve the
monotony, a great expanse of muddy waters and featureless dust, with
just a suggestion in one direction of a low line of blue--very faint.
It tells of the far-away Persian mountains and of snow.

The great feature of the Narrows, however, and one which all our
dwellers in Mesopotamia will remember vividly as long as they live, is
the egg-sellers from the Marsh Arab villages on the banks. Although a
steamer proceeding up-river may be kicking up a great fuss in the water
and apparently thumping along at a great rate, it is, in reality, making
only about four knots on the land. Consequently, when it sidles into the
bank, with one of its lighters touching the marsh, the natives who are
selling things can keep up, and a running--literally running--fire of
bargaining is maintained between the ship's company and the Arabs.

They are all women who do the selling--weird figures in black carrying
baskets of eggs and occasionally chicken. Gesticulating, shouting,
shrieking, they rush along beside the up-going steamer and keep even
with it. In the middle of a bargain the steamer may edge away until a
great gulf is fixed between the bargainers. Sometimes it will slide
along the other bank and a fresh company of yelling Amazons will try and
open up negotiations for eggs while the frenzied and now almost demented
sellers left behind rend their clothes and shout imprecations at their
rivals. Another turn of the current, however, and the vessel again nears
the shore of the original runners and the deal is finished.

[Illustration: The Sirens of the Narrows.]

One girl kept up for miles and at last sold her basket of eggs. She got
a very good price for them, but apparently she wanted her basket back
again. The buyer insisted that the basket was included, and the seller
shrieked frantically that it was not. She kept up with us for some
miles, making imploring gestures, kneeling down with her arms
outstretched as though she was begging for her life, and yelling at the
top of her voice, tears streaming down her cheeks. The basket would be
worth twopence or less and she had made many shillings on the deal.
Finally, a soldier good-naturedly threw it to her and it fell in the
water about three feet from the shore. She hurled herself upon it waist
deep in the water and seized it, then waved her arms and leaped about in
a dance of ecstatic triumph that would have made her fortune at the
Hippodrome.

Another feature of the Narrows is the reed villages. This, of course,
does not exclusively belong to this region, but it is here, when tied up
to the bank, that the best opportunity of a close view is taken.

That houses can be built in practically no time and out of almost
anything has been abundantly claimed at home by numerous enterprising
firms by ocular demonstration at the Building Trades and Ideal Home
Exhibitions. Cement guns and climbing scaffolding, we are assured, will
raise crops of mansions at a prodigious pace, and the housing problem is
all but solved. If we have not noticed many new houses it is not for
want of inventors. Yet the best of these efforts is elaborately
cumbersome compared with housing schemes on these flat lands bordering
the Tigris and Euphrates. Not only has the Marsh Arab evolved a style
of dwelling that can be built in a night, but he can boast of a device
still more alluring in its naivity and utility--the _Portable Village!_

[Illustration: A MARSH ARAB REED VILLAGE]

I once made a sketch of a Marsh Arabs' village at evening (reproduced
facing p. 34), and on returning thither on the following morning to
verify certain details, I found it had gone! I succeeded in tracking it
down again by the afternoon, about ten miles from its former situation,
and found the mayor (or whatever the Marsh-Mesopotamian equivalent may
be) inspecting the finishing touches being made to the borough. Of
course it is frightfully muddling, all this moving about of villages, to
the stranger who is not keeping a sharp look-out and marking well such
impromptu geographical activity.

Along the shores of the rivers of Mesopotamia and in the innumerable
lagoons and backwaters that abound can be found large areas of tall
reeds, ranging from quite slight rushes to canes twenty feet high. It is
with such material the Marsh Arab builds. The long rods he bends into
arches like croquet hoops. On this skeleton, not unlike the ribs of a
boat turned upside down, he stretches large mats woven out of rushes. At
the ends he builds up a straight wall of reed straw bound up in flat
sheaves. An opening is left for an entrance, a mat, sometimes of
coloured material, doing duty for a door.

So much for the principal and removable part of the village. However,
the town planner will add to this by improvising mud enclosures for
animals, and an occasional wall and "tower." The mud is mixed with cut
grass and reeds, quickly drying into a hard substance, and sufficiently
permanent for anything that such a temporary village requires.

In the bright sunlight of the Mesopotamian plains, and probably also on
account of their prominence at a distance over the flat land, some of
these mud buildings look quite imposing. I remember once approaching a
city with ramparts, towers, and formidable walls which, on close
inspection, turned out to be a small mud enclosure of the most decrepit
kind.

Great changes have been made in the rule of the waterways of
Mesopotamia. Sinbad the Sailor has given place to Sinbad the Soldier,
the Inland Water Transport.

We have learnt, as we were advised to do in regard to the things of
Mesopotamia, to think amphibiously.

[Illustration: Noah's Ark, 1919.]



IV

THE WISE MEN FROM THE WEST

[Illustration: Upward bound on the Tigris.]

[Illustration]



THE WISE MEN FROM THE WEST


The story of Mesopotamia is a story of irrigation. "It is not
improbable," writes Sir William Willcocks, the great irrigationist,
"that the wisdom of ancient Chaldea had its foundations in the necessity
of a deep mastery of hydraulics and meteorology, to enable the ancient
settlers to turn what was partially a desert and partially a swamp into
fields of world-famed fertility." The civilizations of Babylon and
Assyria owed their very life to the science of watering the land, and
even in the later times of Haroun Alraschid their great systems had been
well maintained. It is said of Maimûn, the son and successor of this
monarch, that he exclaimed, as he saw Egypt spread out before him,
"Cursed be Pharaoh who said in his pride, 'Am I not Pharaoh, King of
Egypt?' If he had seen Chaldea he would have said it with humility."

Allowing for a certain amount of patriotic exaggeration, the exclamation
at least shows at what a high degree of excellence the irrigation system
of Mesopotamia was maintained in the 10th century A.D. Yet
Mesopotamia is to-day a desert except for the regions in the immediate
vicinity of the rivers. You can go westwards from Baghdad to the
Euphrates, and every mile or so you will have to cross earthworks, not
unlike irregular railway embankments, showing a vast system of
irrigation channels both great and small. But there is not a drop of
water near and not a tree and no sign of any life. How came the change
and how can such a network of channels have ceased to work entirely?

The reason is to be found in some past neglect of the ancient dams that
kept the water on a high level, so that it could flow by means of
artificial canals at a greater height (and consequently at a slower
rate) than the rivers themselves. The Tigris and Euphrates are rivers
fed by the melting snow in the mountains of Armenia. The hotter the
season and the more necessary a plentiful supply of water, the greater
is the amount brought down. The rivers, however, when they reach the
flat alluvial plain between the region round about Baghdad and the
Persian Gulf, when left to themselves are always bringing down a
deposit and choking themselves up and then breaking out in a new
direction, causing swamps and turning much of the land into useless
marsh. Consequent also upon this silting-up process the banks of the
rivers are higher than the surrounding country, and there is a gentle
drop in the level of the land as it recedes from the river.

[Illustration: MUD HOUSES ON THE TIGRIS]

The object of the ancient irrigationists was to tap the rivers at the
higher part of this plain, and then, by means of great canals, lead the
water where they wanted it. Large reservoirs and lakes for storing
surplus water were made, and thus the uneven delivery of water by the
rivers was checked and a more regular and manageable supply maintained.

The greatest of these ancient channels was the Nahrwân. A regulator, the
ruins which are still traceable in the bed of the Tigris, turned
sufficient water into this high-level river at Dura. It stretched
southwards for about 250 miles along the left bank of the Tigris. It was
the neglect of this canal that led to a fearful catastrophe which must
have been responsible for the death of millions; a catastrophe which
turned some 20,000 square miles of fruitful land, teeming with populous
cities, into a dismal swamp.

The intake from the Tigris of this and other canals evidently silted up,
and thus enormous volumes of water, usually carried off by them in times
of flood, helped to swell this river till, bursting its banks, it
inundated the whole country. The result remains to-day--a vast tract of
swampy land, barren and almost useless, except to a few wandering tribes
of Arabs.

And now the land which sent its Wise Men to the West is looking towards
the West again for aid. If its ancient prosperity is to be restored, if
Chaldea is again to be a granary to the world, it is to the West that it
must turn. Science and machinery shall again make the waste places to be
inhabited and the desert blossom as the rose. Thus shall the wise men
return to them--the Wise Men of the West. In every important
agricultural centre are to be found irrigation officers--the
first-fruits of British occupation.

There was only one subject of conversation in Mesopotamia in the winter
of 1918-1919, and that was the chances of getting back home. There was
very little to do at Basra except watch steamers load up with the more
fortunate candidates for demobilization and give them a send-off. Brown
had no difficulty in getting three weeks' leave to accompany me in some
of my expeditions to gather up such fragments as remained of naval
subjects on the rivers. We determined on a voyage of discovery up the
Euphrates in search of the famous "fly-boats" which had figured so
vividly in the early days of naval river fighting, and which now were
more or less peacefully employed. I had to make many sketches of them
for further use, and succeeded in finding a whole "bag" at Dhibban.

[Illustration: A MAHAILA OF THE INLAND WATER TRANSPORT]

We embarked in an ancient-looking stern paddler named _Shushan_. As
we had to camp out in a somewhat rough-and-ready way, with not a little
discomfort owing to a spell of very cold weather, Brown insisted on
referring to her as _Shushan the Palace_.

She had a tall funnel, like the tug in Turner's _Fighting Témeraire,_
and kicked up a tremendous wash with her paddle, the whole effect being
faintly reminiscent of a hay-making machine. She pushed her way along,
slightly "down by the head," as if she had suddenly thought of something
and was putting on a spurt to make up for lost time. I cannot lay hands
on a sketch of her, but the one reproduced at the head of this chapter
will give some idea of her character. Take away one funnel and place it
amid-ships, reduce her tonnage a little, and you have the _Shushan_ to
the life.

This gallant little curiosity is no late conscripted product of the war.
She is one of the pukka ships of the Navy in Mesopotamia--one of the Old
Contemptibles. Armed with a three-pounder which caused such havoc to her
decks when fired that it is reported the ship had to be turned round
after each round. Two shots in succession in the same direction would
have wrecked the vessel.

A host of amusing stories of her exploits were told us by her C.O., who
was an R.N.V.R. Lieutenant. Some practical joker produced a cylinder
alleged to be in cuneiform writing. A translation of the inscription
proved beyond doubt that the _Shushan_ was used by Nebuchadnezzar as a
royal yacht, and is the last surviving link with the Babylonian navy.

When the Turks had fled from Kurna and we were chasing them up the river
with an amazing medley of craft, like a nightmare of Henley regatta
suddenly mobilized, the _Shushan_ was in the forefront of the battle.
Led by the sloops _Espiègle_, _Clio_, and _Odin_, the Stunt Armada came
to Ezra's Tomb at twilight. The river was high and the land in between
the great bends was a maze of rushes and lagoons. Hospital hulks like
Noah's arks, little steamers, and loaded mahailas jostled each other in
their endeavours to get up against the strong stream. The hulks and the
barges were dropped at the bend shown in the sketch, facing page 46, and
the _Odin_ anchored. We had captured already some Turkish barges, and
prisoners had to be collected.

The rest pushed on. Across the bend, some two or three miles away, the
Turkish gunboat _Marmaris_ was putting on every ounce of fuel she had,
and a mass of mahailas and tugs were doing their best to escape the
Nemesis that awaited them. Then the sloops opened fire, and a desultory
cannonade was kept up as it grew darker and darker. At last it was too
dark to get any sort of aim, and firing ceased. The _Marmaris_ had been
set alight by her crew, but we captured the whole of the enemy's
flotilla.

[Illustration: EZRA'S TOMB]

Ezra's Tomb is a splendid spot to look at. Mosquitoes at times makes it
far from pleasant to live in. The blue-tiled dome surrounded by
palms, one of which is bending down in a manner strange to such a
straight-growing tree, is an oasis in a vast wilderness of nothing in
particular.

The Euphrates from a scenic point of view might be described as more
wooded than the Tigris. There are some delightful glimpses of waterside
verdure and rush-covered shores. To the archæologist and the historian
Mugheir is intensely interesting, for the great mound discloses the site
of the ancient Ur--Ur of the Chaldees--from which Abraham set out
towards Canaan.

Up till now, upon a map of the world in Abraham's time, the good little
_Shushan_ would still be at sea. She would be approaching the coast at
the mouth of the river Euphrates, the Tigris flowing-out some fifty
miles further east. Dockyards and busy workshops would proclaim the
vicinity of this capital, the greatest of all the cities of Chaldea.

Since these prosperous days the sea has receded about 150 miles, and
left Ur a nondescript heap to be disputed over by professors.

At length, when we had said good-bye to the _Shushan_ and taken to a
motor-boat, we arrived at Hillah, bent on finding the house of the
irrigation officer. We landed on the wrong side of the river and rashly
let the boat go back. Brown maintains now that this was my idea, but as
a matter of fact it was one of his attempts at a picturesque
approach--for my benefit. Brown has a vivid imagination, and sees so
clearly in his mind how a place _ought_ to be that he really believes
it is so. In this case he pictured us approaching Hillah and looking
down upon miles and miles of fruitful gardens intersected with little
waterways--a sort of landscape-garden Venice. This view could only be
obtained from a high cliff, and as there was no cliff in lower
Mesopotamia, except in Brown's imagination, it was natural that he would
be disappointed.

A sudden white fog, moreover, took away any chance of a view of any
kind, and we were soon hopelessly lost. Some soldiers we met on the way
told us to keep straight on and then turn to the left by some palm
trees. As we soon encountered some palm trees every few yards we
wondered whether they intended to be humorous. I don't think they did,
however. The optimism of you-can't-possibly-miss-it type is too general.
The man who says "turn down by some trees" knows the place well, and can
see certain trees in his mind's eye. He will turn when he sees the right
trees, but you will probably get lost.

Needless to say, everything went wrong with our scheme of approaching
the irrigation works from a picturesque angle. The dense fog thickened
and shrouded the neighbourhood of the river in impenetrable mystery. We
kept turning down by palm trees as directed, but to no purpose. We
struck the river bank again after much wandering and kept to it, hoping
the mist would clear. A man in a goufa appeared from nowhere and floated
away out of sight into nowhere like a ghostly visitant from another
world. The sun began to show through the fog and blue sky appeared
overhead. Soon the steaming vapours dispersed, showing a view of
buildings among palm trees and a bridge of boats.

[Illustration: Hillah.]

Here again we were held up while countless mahailas passed through, but
we succeeded in getting over at last and eventually found the house of
the Wise Men, the headquarters of the irrigation officers.

Had we been ambassadors on a diplomatic visit to Hillah, we could not
have been more hospitably entertained or given greater facilities for
getting about in a most fascinating region of the world for any one who
felt the glamour of history in this once highly civilized country.

Great buildings like Ctesiphon near Baghdad or traces of the vast
irrigation works of the past are full of interest, but for romance and
mystery there is no piece of the world more fraught with meaning than
this site of the city of Nebuchadnezzar, nearly 200 square miles in
extent, and now, but for the comparatively small tract of irrigated
land, a desert.

"Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of
devils."

[Illustration]



V

BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON

[Illustration: Ctesiphon.]

[Illustration]



BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON

The irrigation officers at Hillah were ideal hosts, not only from the
commonly accepted standpoint, but from that of an artist. They let me
roam about and sketch what _I_ wanted, not what _they_ wanted. They gave
me every means of transport, and such suggestions as they made as to
possible subjects were excellent and offered with such tact that there
was no difficulty in abstaining from sketching or going on with
something else.

How often does the unfortunate painter suffer from the well-meaning
host, who with an admiration for his calling, which is both extremely
flattering and tremendously inconvenient, tries to do him
well--especially if he dabbles a little in water-colour painting
himself. An organized attack on all the real or supposed picturesque
bits in the neighbourhood is planned and the members of his family outdo
each other in praiseworthy endeavours to help on the great cause of Art.
The campaign is prefaced by a violent discussion at G.H.Q. as to the
best landscape within easy reach, and Millie, who has had lessons in
pastelles, prevails over Mollie, who merely does pen painting. The
wretched painter is then hauled triumphantly into a car surrounded by
the artistic, who regard him with almost heathen veneration and feel
thrilled by the fact that they, too, observe that the sky is blue and
the trees are green. Arriving at the chosen scene and viewing it from
the spot "from which they always take it," the unfortunate artist is
stood or seated down, book in hand, complete with paintbox and water,
and expected to begin. _He_ does not have any voice in the choosing of
the view. It is high noon. The sun is right in front of him and
everything is so hard that even Turner could make nothing of it. The
worshippers at the shrine of art stand round in awed anticipation,
waiting for the masterpiece.

It is useless for him to protest that the conditions are impossible.
"After such kindness that would be a dismal thing to do." So he
contrives to make some sort of a drawing which dims the lustre of his
reputation in their eyes for many years to come.

[Illustration: ON THE EUPHRATES, EARLY MORNING]

The major took us in his car to various points along the river and
explained the means employed in irrigation. On the Euphrates there are
two methods used for local irrigation apart from the system of canals
flowing from the river. One is the water-wheel, a curious contrivance
built out on stone piers. It consists of a huge paddle-wheel with
buckets like those of a dredger, that fills a trough that runs down into
the fields.

The other is a water-raising device that is worked by bullocks. A large
leather skin is hauled up from the river by a rope over a wheel. This
rope is harnessed to a bullock which walks backwards and forwards
hauling up the water-skin and letting it down again. When the full skin
reaches the top it hits against a bar and pours itself out into a
trough. These two systems, as can be easily imagined, are good only for
the land in the immediate vicinity of the river bank, as the supply of
water is necessarily not large. Above Hit the frequency of the
water-wheels with their stone piers causes so much obstruction that
navigation for any large boats is impossible. In one place there are
seven wheels abreast.

At last we arrived at an old bridge crossing one of the ancient canals,
which branched off from the river in a westerly direction. I have
sketched it on page 57. It is extremely interesting as an
example of the resuscitation of the old waterways of Babylonia. The
banks of this channel here take almost a mountainous character for so
flat a country. This piling up of mounds has been caused by clearing
the silt from the entrance to the intake of the canal.

From the vantage point of this high ground we could see a goodly
prospect, and on the one side the river, here called the Hindeyeh canal,
with its green shore and on the other a belt of date palms and beyond
the illimitable desert. Some five or six miles away there appeared a
mound surmounted by a tower, a curious object alone in the great expanse
of flat land.

"What is that thing," I asked, "that looks like a ruined castle on the
Rhine?"

"The Tower of Babel," replied the major, "or rather that is its popular
name. It is Birs Nimrûd on the map." Brown wanted to start straight away
and "discover" it, but we persuaded him to assent to lunch first. The
major was too busy for such an escapade, but he suggested lending us a
Ford car which would do anything with the desert and which we could not
break, so we returned to Hillah.

After lunch we set out on our expedition, Brown very silent and full, no
doubt, of romantic projects, and arrived back again at the bridge where
I made my sketch. It appears that the route was not direct as far as the
car was concerned, owing to the crossing of some water channels, but
that on foot we should be able to do it. I knew Brown was concocting
something, and he soon let out what it was. His scheme was to send the
car round to meet us at the Tower of Babel and we would walk. I think he
rather liked the idea of saying "Tower of Babel" to the driver instead
of "home." I consented, rather against my better judgment, for I fear
Brown's enthusiasm for dramatic settings. His pathetic belief that my
next picture for the R.A. would be entitled "The Tower of Silence," and
that I should achieve a masterpiece in depicting the blood-red ruin at
sunset across the desert was somewhat disarming. He forgot in his
enthusiasm that if the sun _did_ set when we were in the required
position we should be benighted on the plain without food or shelter,
and not at all in the mood for painting pictures.

[Illustration: Ancient irrigation channel near Hillah.]

Practical difficulties still existed, inasmuch as we were for a long
time unable to explain to the native driver that he was to meet us at
Birs Nimrûd, and feared, if we were not very explicit, he would return
to Hillah and we might never be heard of again. Brown's pantomimic
attempts at direction were obscure even to me, and I am sure the driver
thought he had gone out of his mind. They consisted in his stooping down
with his hand on the ground, then rising slowly, turning round and
round, his hand describing a spiral curve, till it shot up straight over
his head. Then he pointed to the car. There was evidently some implied
connection between the spiral curve and the car. How long this would
have gone on I do not know had I not tried the words "Birs Nimrûd." The
driver understood this and I think we made it clear that whatever
happened he was to be at Birs Nimrûd and wait for us. So we started off
on foot.

[Illustration: BABYLON: THE EXCAVATIONS AT EL KASR]

[Illustration: Tower of Babel (Fig. 1).]

When we were well under way, I asked Brown, who is a freemason, if he
was endeavouring to reach the understanding of the native by means of
some mystic Eastern ritual unknown to me. He was quite scornful of my
want of intelligence and explained that his movements were intended to
describe the tower that had been built from earth to reach up into
heaven. It was perfectly clear, he maintained, that if he first
indicated the Tower of Babel and then the Ford car, the driver would
see, had he been reasonably intelligent, that he was to take the car to
the tower.

The journey over the plain towards the mound and tower was not so
eventful as we had expected it to be. Beyond jumping many small
watercourses or negotiating muddy patches left by the recent rain, we
found no difficulty in keeping a straight course. A herd of camels
trotted away as we approached and we started up a fox. Otherwise we came
across no sign of life. As we advanced mile upon mile the mysterious
tower seemed to get further away, an illusion possible in flat
countries. I have often observed a similar phenomenon in Holland.
Perhaps in this case mirage had something to do with it.

A mosque or tomb became visible and then, almost suddenly, we seemed to
get to close quarters with everything. A ridge rose up from the flat
land and from this point of vantage, known as the tomb of Abraham, we
could look across a level zone a few hundred yards wide to the long,
irregular hummock about a hundred feet high, although in this setting it
looked a great deal more. The east side of this small range is scored
with miniature wadies washed out by rain, and the crowning ruin appeared
(as in sketch, Fig. 1), casting a long shadow down the slope of the
hill.

Leaving the high ground we skirted the foot of the mound, going
southwards and seeing it from the point of view indicated in Fig. 2, and
then as at Fig. 3. A group of Arabs bargaining about coins and
attempting to sell curios to two British officers, who had dismounted
from their horses, made a tremendous hubbub and, as Brown noted, gave
the right local colour as to the confusion of tongues.

I am ill-equipped with books of reference out here, but in one of
Murray's handbooks I have unearthed the following note--all I can find
about this place:--

[Illustration: The Tower of Babel.]

[Illustration: Tower of Babel (Fig. 2).]

"BIRS NIMRÛD, about 2½ hours from Hillah, is a vast ruin
crowned apparently by the ruins of a tower rising to a height of 153½
ft. above the plain, and having a circumference of rather more than 2000
feet. The Birs, which was situated within the city of Borsippa, has been
wrongly identified with the Tower of Babel. It is the temple of Nebo,
called the 'Temple of the seven spheres of Heaven and Earth,' and was a
sort of pyramid built in seven stages, the stairs being ornamented with
the planetary colours, and on the seventh was an ark or tabernacle. The
Birs was destroyed by Xerxes and restored by Antiochus Soter. The Tower
of Babel was possibly the Esagila of the inscriptions, or the
E-Temenanki--a tower not yet identified. Not far from Birs Nimrûd are
the ruins of Hashemieh, the first residence of the Abbaside Khalifs."

Brown would have none of this. Anything is anathema to Brown which
destroys topographical romance. He is a fierce enemy to "higher
criticism," which does away with the whale in the book of Jonah or the
snow-clad summit of Mount Ararat as the resting-place of the ark. It is
quite exciting, he maintains, to picture the ark stuck on the perilous
ice-peaks of a glacier, with Noah and his family endeavouring to get the
elephants and giraffes safely down a ravine like the Mer de Glace to the
more temperate regions of the plains below. How much better than
thinking of it stuck fast on some wretched mound by the Euphrates, 30
feet high.

[Illustration: AN OLD WORLD CRAFT, A TYPE OF BOAT UNCHANGED SINCE THE
DAYS OF SINBAD]

[Illustration: Tower of Babel (Fig. 3).]

Here was a find, too good to be lost, a high tower on a mound visible
from afar and unrivalled by any equally picturesque claimant. It looked
the part splendidly, so the Tower of Babel it should be as far as Brown
was concerned.

As a matter of fact, Brown "let himself go" with historical speculations
and discovered not only that this was the Tower of Babel, but that it
was the site of Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace, with evident signs, from
a fragment of calcined brick, which he bore away in triumph, that it had
been heated seven times hotter on some occasion.

We climbed about the ruin, unearthed several coins, which seemed quite
plentiful in one place where the rain had washed down the side of a
small mound, and found obvious signs of some great conflagration. Brown
says that, as no one has got any better explanation of this fire than
he has, he will stick to his furnace theory.

The native driver turned up all right with the car and took us back to
Hillah. From there we crossed the river by the bridge of boats and at a
distance of about five miles came upon the scene of the great
excavations, which, although the city is said to have extended over an
area of some 200 square miles, is generally known as the site of
Babylon. It was in 1899, that the German archæologist, Dr. Koldeway,
began excavations on a large scale and with systematic care.

Although Babylon was a site occupied by some city in prehistoric times,
as stone and flint implements denote, the earliest _houses_ of
which there are any traces belong to about 2000 B.C. It was
Nebuchadnezzar, however (605--562 B.C.), who rebuilt the city
and made it very splendid, and it is to this period of his reign that
the greater part of the ruins of the great city belong. The mound Babil
is thought to be the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II. An inscription reads:
"On the brick wall towards the north my heart inspired me to build a
palace for the protecting of Babylon. I built there a palace, like the
palace of Babylon, of brick and bitumen."

[Illustration: BELLAMS UNDER SAIL]

The principal excavations are in the Kasr, at one time a vast block of
buildings where are still the traces of a great and broad street used as
a processional road to the temple of E-Sagila, which lies to the south
about 700 yards away. Some of the stones of this road are in their
original places, and there are pieces of brick pavement, each bearing
cuneiform characters. If you take up a brick and look at it casually,
you might think that it had "Jones & Co." or the "Sittingbourne Brick
Co." stamped upon it and it does not look at all old. It is rather
startling to be told that the letters read:--

"I am Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon; I paved the Babel Way with blocks
of _shadu_ stone for the procession of the great lord Marduk. O Marduk,
Lord, grant long life."

These mounds of the Kasr have suffered by successive generations of
brick getters. Half Hillah is said to be built out of bricks from the
ruins of Babylon, and bricks are still taken for any building operations
that occur within easy access of these well-nigh inexhaustible supplies.
In one place, the Temple of Nin-Makh, the Great Mistress, there are to
be found an immense number of little clay images, thought to be votive
offerings made by women to the great Mother Goddess.

In the Mound of Amram, according to Major R. Campbell Thompson, are
traces of the E-Temenanki referred to in Murray's handbook as not yet
identified. [My Murray's handbook is 15 years old.] He writes, in a most
useful little book published in Baghdad, 1918, "History and Antiquities
of Mesopotamia":--"A hundred yards north of the north slope of Amram is
the ancient _zigurrat_ or temple-tower of the famous E-Temenanki: 'the
foundation stone of Heaven and Earth' (the Tower of Babylon). The
enclosing wall forms almost a square, and part has been excavated, but
all the buildings have suffered from brick-robbers. The remains of the
actual Tower are towards the south-west corner.

"Many ancient restorations were carried out here. Professor Koldeway
found inscriptions of Esarhaddon and Sardanapalus and thereafter
inscriptions of Babylonian Kings. Herodotus calls the group of buildings
'the brazen-doored sanctuary of Zeus Below,' and he describes the
zigurrat as a temple-tower in eight stages. The cuneiform records of
Nabopolassar relate how the god Marduk commanded him 'to lay the
foundation of the Tower of Babylon ... firm on the bosom of the
underworld while its top should stretch heavenwards.'"

The first impression of the Kasr is that of a shelled town or mined
flour mill, where nothing remains but the lower walls of buildings. From
a painter's point of view, the scene of this great city, about which he
has pictured so much, is somewhat disappointing. There is such an
absence of anything suggestive of palaces and streets. Frankly, the
ruins of the cement works at Frindsbury are, pictorially, far more
suggestive. I have always said that the hanging gardens of Borstal
knocked spots off the hanging gardens of Babylon, and now I know it. So
much for a first impression.

After awhile, however, wandering amongst these hummocks and pits, with
here and there a suggestion of a gateway or pavement, the glamour of it
all begins to return.

[Illustration: BABYLON THE GREAT IS FALLEN, IS FALLEN]

It is not to the eye that the appeal of poetry is made, but to the
imagination.

There is a figure of a stone lion trampling on a man, but this was
unearthed and set up by a French engineer, and is not explanatory of any
scheme of sculptural work. It is merely a monument. There is also a
brick pillar, the bricks being uncommonly like London stock bricks,
which might be part of a fallen chimney in a ruined factory. These are
the only architectural signs at first visible.

On descending to the passages and ways made by the base walls of
buildings, lions and monsters moulded in the brickwork appear, but they
are only to be seen at close quarters, and in one part of this vast
wilderness of brick, and do not affect in any way the general character
of the place--a place of loneliness and of utter desolation. The whole
area is like a small range of hills, down the slopes of which are steep
descents to clefts sometimes filled with reeds and rushes and stagnant
pools of water. The site of the world-renowned hanging gardens is now
marked by a series of nondescript lumps. The great temple of Marduk is a
dusty heap of brick rubbish, and the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar appears as
a mean slag heap looking down upon a land desolate and empty.

This is Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees.

"It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from
generation to generation; neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there;
neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.

"But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall
be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there and satyrs
shall dance there.

"And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses,
and dragons in their pleasant palaces."

[Illustration]



VI

ARABIAN NIGHTS IN 1919

[Illustration: GOUFAS ON THE TIGRIS]

[Illustration]



ARABIAN NIGHTS IN 1919


Somewhere in Mesopotamia, in the desert country that lies between the
Euphrates at Felujeh and the Tigris, and in the neighbourhood of a
walled-in group of buildings known as Khan Nuqtah, in the month of
February of this year, and on a singularly miserable and rainy
afternoon, there might have been seen a dark object moving very slowly
across the uninteresting field of vision. At a distance it would not
have been very easy to make out the nature of the thing, and a newcomer
to the scene, with no local knowledge of circumstantial evidence to
guide him, would have hesitated between a buffalo or a hippopotamus and
finally given a vote in favour of it being some slime-crawling saurian
that we come across in pictures of antediluvian natural history.

A closer view, however, would have made clear to him that it was no
animal, but some species of tank, coated and covered with mud,
accompanied by three similarly encased attendants, probably human
beings, staggering and skidding about in its immediate vicinity. From
time to time, one of these three would mount on the head or fore-part of
this object, with the effect of causing it to slide and plunge forward
for a few yards to stick again and again, snorting and panting and
unable apparently to make any further progress.

A detective, equipped with a certain amount of motor knowledge, might
have been able to discern that the mud-encrusted monster was a Ford car.
A tailor, whose technical training would help him to penetrate the
disguise of thick slime, might have been able to recognize by the cut of
their clothes that the first of the three figures was an R.A.F. driver
and the other two were naval officers. As a matter of fact one of these
forlorn representatives of our boasted sea-power was Brown, and the
other one, although I think he would have hesitated to swear to his
identity at the time, was the unfortunate writer of these chronicles.

There was no doubt about it; we were done.

"At the present rate of progress we shall reach Baghdad in about ten
days," said the driver, "and it's getting worse."

[Illustration: A STREET IN KHADAMAIN]

A few more hours' rain and no power on earth would move the car an inch.
We knew from experience that nothing could be done for four or five
days, so we faced the situation philosophically, shouldered a bag each
and staggered in the sliding mud in the direction of the Khan. We
started off with no illusions as to our fate if we encountered rain, and
were therefore quite prepared for this. There was nothing for it but to
camp out somehow until the sun had been given a chance. The fact that we
had been able to reach this point with the Khan and railway close at
hand was a piece of luck for which we were thankful.

Brown was by far the best exponent of this art of walking in mud while
carrying weight. The driver was quite good at it, having had
considerable practice on similar occasions. I was uncompromisingly bad.
I sat down three or four times to the driver's once. Brown did not sit
down at all, but he did some amazing movements in skidding, reminding
one in a somewhat vague way of the tramp cyclist of the music-hall
stage.

I have often thought since these days of mud in Mesopotamia that a vast
fortune might be made by some one who could find a commercial use for a
substance, as slippery as oil, as indelible in staining properties as
walnut juice, and as adhesive as fish glue. Large quantities of
Mesopotamian mud could be shipped to London and made up into tubes. Then
all that would be necessary would be three distinctive labels. One could
describe it as a wonderful lubricant and cheap substitute for machine
oil. Another could proclaim to the world a new washable distemper. A
third could laud it as a marvellous paste or cement that would adhere to
anything whatsoever.

"There is one comfort," Brown gasped in an interval between two very
energetic spells of sliding, "if we can't move the Ford, nobody else
can!"

In the circumstances of the moment I cannot say that I felt much
"comfort" in contemplating the car's condition. In fact I didn't care in
the least whether I saw the thing again or not. All I cared about was
reaching the Khan and putting down my bag. We found tracks where some
scrubby plants were growing, where the surface was passable, but as we
neared the entrance to the Khan, where carts and horsemen had made a
veritable quagmire, we stuck, all three, without apparently any prospect
of getting on at all unless we abandoned our baggage. However, some
Arabs came to our assistance and relieved us of our burdens, so that we
gained our objective.

Beginning our toilet by scraping each other down with a ruler, so that
we could see which was which, we soon evolved into something like our
normal selves. We had a few clothes to change into, but neither Brown
nor I had a complete set of everything. The result was that Brown looked
like a naval officer that had taken up cement making and I appeared to
be a cement worker, finished off, as the eye followed me downwards, with
very smart trousers and regulation naval boots.

[Illustration: MOONLIGHT, BAGHDAD]

The Khan was a poor enough shelter as far as accommodation went, but we
managed to make up a good fire and get tolerably dry. Some tea, made by
the ever resourceful driver, raised our spirits considerably, and we
talked over plans for the immediate future. Enquiries revealed the fact
that we were in great luck about trains, which appeared at intervals of
several days, as one was due in a few hours that would reach Baghdad the
same night. The driver had found others held up with their cars, so we
left him to stand by till better weather made movement possible and
decided to put in a few days at Baghdad instead of waiting here.

At about 7 o'clock, a train of miscellaneous construction steamed in
from the direction of Dhibban, bound for Baghdad. This bit of line runs
from Baghdad to the Euphrates and is important because it links up the
two great waterways and is always available when motor transport is
impossible on account of the state of the roads.

We clambered into a covered van, specially reserved--a sort of
Mesopotamian Pullman car. It contained a great litter of odd baggage and
two Hindu officers who were very luxuriously fitted up with beds and a
table. Divesting ourselves of our wet trench-coats, for it was still
raining, we made some sort of a seat of our bags and were tolerably
comfortable. Brown, who, now that he was dry and warm and well fed, was
in the highest spirits, prophesied that our arrival in the enchanted
city of the Arabian Nights was well timed, for it was Friday night, when
all the mosques would be lighted up.

  "A million tapers flaring bright
   From twisted silvers look'd to shame
   The hollow-vaulted dark, and stream'd
   Upon the mooned domes aloof
   In inmost Bagdat, till there seem'd
   Hundreds of crescents on the roof
     Of night new-risen."[2]

So sang Brown, with a map spread out, proving to me that we must alight
at Baghdad South to get the best effect as we gazed entranced at the
night glory of Bagdat's shrines of fretted gold and walked on to find
romance and mystery by many a shadow-chequer'd lawn.

"So much better," he argued, "to approach it gradually like this instead
of arriving in a matter-of-fact way by train." It was still raining
hard, and I had grave doubts about the splendour we were enjoying so
much in anticipation, but I did not throw all cold water on his scheme,
especially as much of it was planned for my benefit. Art would be the
richer, although we, its humble devotees, might be the wetter.

I forget now, very clearly what did happen when we arrived at Baghdad
South, because we had stopped some time, shunting about, and did not
know that we were there. When at last we discovered that we were at the
station the train was just moving off. Brown shouted to me to jump out
and take our bags. I did so as best I could, but found myself up to my
ankles in liquid mud, not a good position at any time for catching heavy
baggage at a height, but singularly awkward in view of the fact that
Brown in the dark could not see where I was and hurled the bags just out
of reach, but sufficiently near to me to cover me with a kind of soup.

[Illustration: A NOCTURNE OF BAGHDAD]

My next recollection is that of Brown, dark against the sky, describing
a parabolic curve and alighting further up the line. The train had gone,
and a sloppy gurgling noise mingled with muffled exclamations growing
more distinct indicated that Brown was endeavouring to walk in my
direction. These were the only sounds that interrupted the steady noise
of pouring rain. There was nothing in sight. Not only was it that we
could not see the splendour of Baghdad; we could not see each other.

After an interval of groping about and finding bearings, we began to get
accustomed to the gloom and discerned some sheds or buildings up the
line. Thinking this was the station we plodded on as steadily as
possible through the mud. Dimly, through the rain, we could make out
some palms and what appeared to be a domed building and a minaret. Then
we reached a large wooden shed out of the shadow of which loomed an
engine. It evidently had steam up, so we stopped and gave it a hail.

I think I shall never forget the surprise of the next few minutes. As if
in answer to our hail, a door opened in the dark mass of the shed and
revealed a workshop brilliantly lighted. Out of this stepped an Arab
with a lamp in his hand, and gave us an answering shout We stepped into
the light. I don't know which was most surprised, the native at seeing
such curious figures staggering under large bags through the mud, or we,
at beholding in the beam of light from the shed a magic vignette of
palms, Eastern buildings and a large South Western Railway engine.

Brown was delighted.

"The slave of the lamp," he cried, "calling up spirits from the vasty
mud. I don't believe this engine is real, but it will do to get us into
Baghdad."

And it _did_. We found a soldier driver and a stoker, got leave from
headquarters to use the engine to run into Baghdad West, hurled our bags
on to the coal in the tender and were transported unscathed by further
mud to the quay by the waters of the Tigris. It was too dark to see
much. A multitude of steamboats and mahailas lined the shore. The river
was in flood and looked black and forbidding, and it was impossible to
see across to the other side. The only light was supplied by a few
electric lamps at intervals along the road. It still rained dismally and
we made for a canteen close at hand. Here we felt quite at home, for
there were several other arrivals as muddy as we were and even worse.
Considering this was only a restaurant attached to a rest camp, we fared
very well. Our baggage we left there and set out on foot to try and
reach Navy House, which was the other side of the river. There were two
boat-bridges we were told, and the upper one would lead us into the
right quarter. The old Navy House, near to G.H.Q., was now used by some
one else, and the British Navy, shrunk to very small proportions as
far as Baghdad was concerned, "carried on" in a back street.

[Illustration: "A magic vignette of palms, Eastern buildings and a large
South Western Railway engine."]

Our first check was at the bridge. Owing to the river being in flood, it
was open, that is, the middle section had been floated out, for fear
that the hawsers would not stand the strain and the only road across was
the Maude Bridge lower down.

Brown was delighted. The rain had stopped and he anticipated adventure.
The idea of getting across the river in a _goufa_ flashed across his
mind, but a glance at the foaming, tearing water was sufficient
deterrent even to an optimist like Brown. It might be done in daylight,
but at night it would be suicide.

We decided to make our way through the narrow streets that led by the
side of the river until we struck the main road that approached the
bridge of boats half a mile or so down. In theory this sounded very
feasible, but in practice, owing to the tortuous nature of the ways and
to the fact that it was very dark, we soon got lost. Twice, when we
thought we were progressing well, we came upon the same place again.
Then we struck the river, more or less by accident, and took fresh
bearings of the general direction we were to pursue.

We plunged into a covered way, arched overhead like a cloister. This had
the advantage of being dry and our speed increased considerably. From
time to time a dim light gave a glimmer to show us the way.

[Illustration: "Suddenly we came upon a scene of strange beauty and
dramatic effect."]

It was late and there were few people about. The figures that flitted
by were silent and mysterious. A window here and there was lighted up,
but for the most part the houses were dark and without sign of life. We
found no "splendours of the golden prime of good Haroun Alraschid," but
for all that the narrow streets looked romantic and weird. The sky had
cleared and the moonlight had given a glamour of phantasy to the vistas
of the street.

Suddenly we came upon a scene of strange beauty and dramatic effect. A
turn in this narrow and cloister-like way brought us to an arched
opening, with some steps leading to the water. It was a sheltered inlet
from the surging and swirling stream of the Tigris, a kind of pocket
built round by crazy old balconied buildings. This was filled with
goufas, the weird round boat of the upper river, and the animated scene
of people either embarking or disembarking made a strange people. We saw
this scene for a few moments only, as we made our way through the crowd
at this point. I have since wondered where all these goufas were going.
They could not have intended to cross the river under present
conditions. I think the rapidly rising river must have upset all
calculations as to mooring boats at this point and their owners were
making sure that they were secure. The noise and apparent excitement was
probably nothing but the usual Eastern custom of making a great fuss
about nothing.

[Illustration: MAHAILAS AND MARSH ARAB'S BELLAM]

At last, after much marching and counter-marching, we struck the main
thoroughfare leading to the Maude bridge, which we crossed. The thick,
seething waters foamed and struggled against the pontoons and swept down
between them like roaring devils. We were very glad to get over, for it
looked as though a little more force would have carried the whole thing
away. Once clear of the bridge we found ourselves in New Street, the
thoroughfare made since the British occupation, and incidentally we ran
into a cheery naval officer who picked us up and deposited us again at
Navy House, whither he was bound. Had we not received this timely aid I
think we should have gone on looking for Navy House all night. A more
amazing situation for it could not have been found, if you searched the
world over.

Wedged in, cheek by jowl, with buildings that might have figured in the
tall streets of old London, it lay nowhere near the water, down a very
narrow and crooked lane, where mules and men, camels and beggars jostled
each other on their lawful occasions.

When we had settled down there and had fine weather for several days,
Brown, loath to waste the romance of old Baghdad during glorious
moonlight nights, insisted on some mysterious expeditions which were for
the purpose of adventure, but ostensibly arranged to give me an
opportunity of sketching. He produced an Arab, arrayed in strange
garments, to carry a light and generally act as a guide. We called him
the slave of the lamp. I am quite certain that he thought Brown was
mad, but this belief on the whole was rather an advantage, as he treated
him with all the more respect because of his affliction, which he
regarded as a special visitation of Allah.

[Illustration: "By garden porches on the brim,
                The costly doors flung open wide."]

[Illustration: "All round about the fragrant marge,
                From fluted vase and brazen urn,
                In order, Eastern flowers large."]


I was surprised that he seemed to take great delight in my sketching,
and several times, when I was making notes of some quaint latticed
windows overhanging the narrow road, so that they nearly met, he became
quite excited, chuckling and laughing to himself, as if in the enjoyment
of some tremendous joke.

I discovered afterwards that Brown's native servant had been pulling the
leg of our worthy slave, by telling him that these nightly expeditions
were for the purpose of carrying off some ravishingly beautiful lady
from one of the harems. No doubt he thought my sketching merely a blind.
Measurements with a pencil were obviously part of some incantation.

While on the subject of sketching, especially quick note-taking under
difficult conditions, I want a word with my fellow-craftsmen should they
chance to take up this book. The difficulties of drawing by twilight,
lamplight, and the still greater difficulty of drawing in colour under
blazing sunlight, cannot easily be exaggerated. How many times has a
sketch done in a failing light looked strong in tone, only to go to
pieces when seen under normal conditions? How often the sunlight on your
paper flatters your colours, so that you think you are improvising in a
most joyous way, and when you get home you find nothing but dinginess
and mud!

[Illustration: "By Baghdad's shrines of fretted gold,
                High-walled gardens, green and old."]

Probably you have thought it out and found some solution as I did, but
in case these difficulties are still formidable I will tell you of _one_
way to reduce them to impotence. I take with me, on all occasions where
there is to be great uncertainty of light, some coloured chalks. About
six colours, picked to suit the kind of work attacked; either chalk
pencils or hard pastilles will give you certain colour values in
whatever light you find yourself, and even if you can hardly see what
you are drawing these _must_, to some extent, standardize your values,
so that your rough work can be washed over and brought up to any pitch
of detail subsequently, without danger of the main tones of your sketch
being wrong. The speed with which a sketch can be carried forward in
this way, and the "quality" obtained by the rapid fusion of the chalk
with the colour wash, are both pleasant surprises when experimenting in
this medium.

Night after night we sallied forth and roamed about the narrow ways and
tortuous turnings of old Baghdad. The bazaars are mostly covered in with
arched masonry, and the effect is that of a long side aisle in a very
untidy and greatly secularized cathedral. From time to time glimpses of
the dark-blue, star-filled sky showed through openings overhead, and
sometimes a quaintly framed view of a dome or minaret.

On one occasion we embarked in a goufa, and floated down the rapidly
flowing river, keeping close to the left bank and taking advantage of
every eddy and corner of slack water made by projecting buildings, lest
we should be swept down too far and lose control of our curious and
difficult craft. The level of the water was far above the usual height
and came up to the very thresholds of these riverside houses. We floated
on, sometimes under the walls of dark gardens, sometimes getting
glimpses of interiors--interiors which in this glamour of night romance
suggested something of the splendour of Baghdad's old glory:--

  "By garden porches on the brim,
   The costly doors flung open wide,
   Gold glittering through lamplight dim."

We landed by the Maude bridge and explored further afield, finding
"high-walled gardens" where we beheld

  "All round about the fragrant marge,
   From fluted vase and brazen urn,
   In order, Eastern flowers large."

By day, Baghdad is not so impressive. Too much squalor is apparent. Yet
there are quaint street scenes.

Ancient windows, overhanging the street in one quarter, reminded me
strongly of pictures of old London. The feature that I could not help
noticing, not only in Baghdad but in all Mesopotamia, was the absence of
local colour. It is true that the sun gives a blazing and confused
suggestion of colour to objects by contrast with bluish shadows,
especially in the evening, but there is often very little colour in
things themselves. The East is supposed to be full of blazing colour and
the North gray and drab. Yet compare a barge in Rotterdam or Rochester
with one in Baghdad. The former is picked out in green and gold and
glows with rich, red sails, while the latter, for all its sunshine, is
the colour of ashes--not a vestige often of paint or gilding. Some
mahailas I found with traces of rich colouring, blue and yellow (see
sketch facing page 34), but this was exceptional. Perhaps the scarcity
of paint during years of war may have had something to do with this
noticeable absence of colouring in regard to both houses and boats. In
spite of this slovenliness in detail there is colour and light in all
recollections of Baghdad's dusty streets.

Somehow the discomfort and squalor is soon forgotten and the romance and
picturesqueness of these far-off streets remains as a very pleasant
memory amidst the winter fogs and coldness of our northern lands.

[Illustration: Showing the simplicity of Mesopotamian domestic
architecture. Tigris.]



VII

IN OLD BAGHDAD

[Illustration: BAGHDAD]

[Illustration: "Puffing Billy in Bagdad."]



IN OLD BAGHDAD


I suppose there is no city to be found anywhere in the world that would
quite reach the standard of dazzling splendour of the Baghdad that we
conjure up in our imagination when we think of the City of the Arabian
Nights in the romantic days, so dear to our childhood, of
Haroun-al-Raschid. We expect so much when we come to the real Baghdad,
and we find so little--so little, that is, of the glamour of the East.
Few "costly doors flung open wide," but a great deal of dirt. Few dark
eyes of ravishingly beautiful women peering coyly through lattice
windows, but a great deal of sordid squalor. Few marvellous
entertainments where we can behold the wonderful witchery of Persian
dancing girls, but a theatre, the principal house of amusement in
Baghdad--and lo, a man selling onions to the habitués of the stalls!

Of all the deadly dull shows I have ever seen I think the one I saw at
Baghdad furnished about the dullest. There were two principal dancing
girls--stars of the theatrical world of Mesopotamia--and a few others
forming a kind of chorus. The orchestra, on the stage, consisted of a
guitar, a sort of dulcimer, and a drum. The musicians made a most
appalling noise and rocked to and fro, as if in the greatest enjoyment
of the thrilling harmonies they were creating. The stars came on one at
a time, the odd one out meanwhile augmenting the chorus, and sang a few
verses of a song to a tune that can only be described as a Gregorian
chant with squiggly bits thrown in. Of course I was unable to understand
the words, but can bear witness to the fact that the tune did not vary
the whole evening, and every gesture and attitude of the singer was
exactly the same again and again as she went through the performance,
and the dance which concluded each six or eight verses was also exactly
the same every time. After this had been going on for about an hour the
other girl came to the footlights. It was natural to expect a change;
but no, she went through it all as if she had most carefully
understudied the part. Neither of these girls was pretty or in the least
attractive to look at. All I could assume, as the audience seemed quite
satisfied, was that the words must have been extraordinarily brilliant
or that the Baghdad public was very easily entertained.

[Illustration: A bit of Old Baghdad.]

The journey from Basra to Baghdad takes nearly a week in a "fast"
steamer. It can be done, however, express, by taking the train from
Basra to Amara, leaving Basra about five in the evening and arriving at
Amara in the morning. Then the journey is continued by boat to Kut, and
thence from Kut in the evening by train, arriving in Baghdad in the
early morning--the whole distance within two days. The railway does not
run the whole way. The journey from Amara to Kut sounds a mere link
across the river, as the full name of Kut is Kut-el-Amara, and most
people naturally suppose Amara is part of Kut. This is another Amara,
however. The Amara from which we embark for Kut, a day's journey in a
fast boat, is a large camp, and quite a town for Mesopotamia, captured
from the Turks, early in the war, by sheer bluff. The Turkish commandant
surrendered to a naval launch under the impression that about half the
sea-power of the British Empire lay in the offing. As a matter of fact
no other help of any kind arrived until the next day, and all the
surrendered forces were kept on good behaviour by a Lieutenant and a
marine--I think with one revolver between them.

Kut looks quite an imposing place from across the river. The sketch at
the top of this article shows it when the water of the Tigris was
particularly high. It is drawn from the site of the famous liquorice
factory, which is now represented by a few mud heaps and one rusted
piece of machinery. The long arcade with brick pillars runs along the
margin of the river, suggestive of some ancient Babylonian city from
this distance, and is but a sorry enough place in reality.

[Illustration: A MOONLIGHT FANTASY: KUT FROM THE RUINS OF THE LICQUORICE
FACTORY]

Very little of the Baghdad as we know it to-day is old. By tradition it
was founded in 762 A.D., and became the renowned capital of
the Arab empire. It is said that the city grew till it covered some 25
square miles, reaching its high-water mark of splendour and magnificence
under the Sultan Haroun-al-Raschid. The fame of its schools and learning
was world-wide, and Baghdad became to the East what Rome became in the
West.

For some five centuries this pre-eminence continued, until the Turkish
nomadic tribes from Central Asia came on to the stage. They conquered
Persia, Mesopotamia, and Syria.

The Turks extended their conquests to Egypt, and Baghdad, now on the
decline, kept her head above water for another century. But Chingiz
Khan, the Mongol, appeared on the scene, and his son and successor,
Ogotay, overran the Caucasus, Hungary, and Poland. Baghdad was sacked by
Hulagu in 1258, and the irrigation works of Mesopotamia were destroyed.

In spite of her decline and fall Baghdad is still a holy place to all
faithful Mohammedans. It is the Mecca of the Shiah Mussulmans. Kerbela
and Nejef are the great places of burial for the faithful, and among the
common sights of the plains of Mesopotamia are endless caravans of
corpses from the Persian hills or from the distant north.

The British occupation of Baghdad has been responsible for one broad
street through the city, possible for ordinary traffic, but most of the
bazaars are long covered-in ways, arched like cloisters and very
picturesque at night. There are some wonderful blues on domes and
minarets, but it is not until you see the golden towers of Khadamain
that you get any glimpse of the splendour of the golden prime of good
Haroun-al-Raschid. Khadamain is a great place of pilgrimage, and so
zealously guarded is the place that it is said no Christian would ever
be allowed to come out of the great mosque alive. A golden chain hangs
across the entrance. This can be seen in frontispiece sketch of this
book. All good Mussulmans kiss this chain as they enter the sacred
precincts.

From many delightful points of view the gleaming towers of this place,
seen through the palms and reflected in the flooded lagoons at the
margin of the river, do indeed give us something of the colour and
romance that we had expected to see and yet so rarely find in the
sun-baked lands of Mesopotamia.

[Illustration]



VIII

PARADISE LOST

[Illustration: "Blossoms and fruit at once of golden hue Appeared, with
gay enamelled colours mixed." --_Paradise Lost, IV_.]

[Illustration]



PARADISE LOST


The statement often made that Mesopotamia is a vast desert through which
run two great rivers, bare but for the palm trees on their banks and
flat as a pancake, is true as far as it goes. It is possible, however,
to picture a land entirely different from Mesopotamia and still stick to
this description. I have met countless men out there who have told me
that they had built up in their minds a wrong conception of the country
and a wrong idea of its character simply by letting their imagination
get to work on insufficient data.

To begin with, the word "desert" generally suggests sand. People who
have been to Egypt or seen the Sahara naturally picture a sandy waste
with its accompanying oases, palms and camels. Mesopotamia, however, is
a land of clay, of mud, uncompromising mud. The Thames and Medway
saltings at high tide, stretching away to infinity in every
direction--this is the picture that I carry in my mind of the riverside
country between Basra and Amara. No blue, limpid waters by Baghdad's
shrines of fretted gold, but pea-soup or _café au lait_. Even the
churned foam from a paddle wheel is _café au lait_ with what a
blue-jacket contemptuously referred to as "a little more of the _au
lait!_" At a distance it can be blue, gloriously blue, by reflection
from the sky, but it will not bear close examination.

The railway skirts the river here, running from Ezra Tomb to Amara
having started from Basra. Amara must not be confused with Kut-el-Amara.
The names are a source of great confusion to newcomers. When I was told
that the railway did not go any further than Amara, I lightheartedly
pictured myself making my way across the river in a goufa or bellam and
scorned the suggestion that I might have to wait some time for a steamer
to Kut. I thought Kut was on one side of the river and Amara on the
other. It is, however, a twenty-four hours' journey in a fast boat.

It is perfectly true that the country is "as flat as a pancake" in
original formation, but the traces of ancient irrigation systems, to say
nothing of buried cities--Babylon is quite mountainous for
Mesopotamia--make it a very bumpy plain in places.

[Illustration: DAWN AT AMARA]

Now that the British are in occupation of the land instead of the Turk,
the natural assumption of every patriotic Briton is that the desert will
immediately blossom as the rose and the waste places become inhabited.
But the difficulties, which are many--finance being, perhaps, the least
of them--arise on all sides, when a study of the subject goes a little
deeper than the generalizations popularly made about irrigation and its
revival in a land which was once, before all things, dependent for its
prosperity upon this science.

Of the two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, the banks of the
Euphrates are the more wooded and picturesque and the Tigris is the
busier. The backwaters, creeks and side channels of both are exceedingly
beautiful, and here one can get a glimpse of the fertility that must
have belonged to Mesopotamia when it was a network of streams and when
the forests abounded within its borders. Centuries of neglect and the
blight of the unspeakable Turk have dealt hardly with this country. It
is indeed a Paradise Lost and it will be many a long day before it is
Paradise Regained.

A beginning, however, has been made. Our army of occupation includes
"irrigation officers," and gradually the work of watering the country is
extending. Hardly any tree but the palm is found, yet this is only for
want of planting. The soil is good, and with an abundance of water,
everything, from a field of corn to a forest, is possible.

I made some study of the irrigation work in progress, and picked up a
little rudimentary information concerning this problem of the watering
of the land, although I lay no claim to technical knowledge on the
subject. The chief difficulty does not seem to be that of making the
desert blossom as the rose, but that of causing the waste places to be
inhabited. What the Babylonians with slave labour could do, modern
machinery and science can quite easily achieve; but the difficulty of
finding sufficient people to live in this resuscitated Eden will be
great. Mesopotamia is not a white man's country. India would appear to
be the direction in which to look for colonists, but it is an
unfortunate fact that the Arab does not like the Indian and the Indian
does not like the Arab. Sooner or later there would be trouble.

[Illustration: A BACKWATER IN EDEN]

In the creeks the water is much clearer than in the river, as it
deposits the silt when it flows more placidly than in the turmoil of the
main stream. Oranges, bananas, lemons, mulberries abound, and vines
trailing from palm to palm in some of the backwaters. In one narrow arm
near Basra, a sort of communication trench between two canals, I saw
orange bushes overhanging the water, and, growing with them, some plant
with great white bells. I have sketched the effect on page 98, and
incidentally show a bellam in which an old Arab is pushing his way
through the overhanging shrubs. On page 105 is a goufa, a type of
round wicker boat in vogue two thousand six hundred years ago and still
in use. Talk about standardization: here is a craft standardized before
the days of Sennacherib! Assyrian sculptures in the British Museum show
this boat in use exactly as it is to-day, and although we have no
records, it probably was in use for ages previously. Noah, possibly, had
one as dinghy to the Ark. The goufa is made like a basket and then
coated with bitumen. This type of boat gives a touch of fantasy to the
scenery of the Tigris and Euphrates, especially when filled with
watermelons and paddled by a man whose appearance suggests Abraham
attempting the role of Sinbad the Sailor for "the pictures."

Of all the things I saw in my travels in Mesopotamia, I think a goufa
was about the most satisfactory. It is a delightful shape and a
fascinating colour--a sort of milky blue-grey--somewhere between the
colour of an elephant and an old lead vase. It satisfies that craving
for mystery which we are led to expect when we travel to the East. When
we first see a goufa we do not know quite what it is. It may be
something to do with magic.

Another curiosity of the Upper Tigris is the raft of light wood and
air-inflated skins which comes down from the north to Samara and
Baghdad. On this section of the river there are many shallows, sometimes
caused by traces of old rubble weirs. Consequently any kind of craft
which drew more than a few inches would be always in trouble. These
rafts, made of light saplings lashed together, are rendered buoyant by
being packed underneath with goat-skins inflated with air. Thus they
require only a very slight depth of water to float them, and they are
sufficiently tough to stand bumping and scraping over shoals and
shallows.

The men who manoeuvre these strange craft have some sort of tent or
shelter to protect them from the sun, and they row with huge paddles.
This rowing is sufficient to keep some sort of steering way on the raft,
enough to enable it to get from one bank of the river to the other as it
floats down.

Wood is scarce in the Baghdad region, and the material of these rafts is
sold together with the cargo on its arrival at its destination. The crew
proceed back by road to Diarbekr or some up-river town to bring down
another raft.

The glamour of the East is felt mostly in the West. In an atmosphere of
fog and wet streets, sun-baked plains with endless caravans and belts of
date-palms by Tigris' shore seem the most delightful of prospects.
Memory and imagination, those two artists of never-failing skill, leave
out of the picture all dust and squalor--and insects! Yet to those who
are sojourning by the Waters of Babylon or resting in sight of the
golden towers of Khadamain romance and mystery would seem to dwell in a
glimpse of Waterloo Bridge, with ghostly barges gliding silently by a
thousand lamps, or in the grey cliffs of houses that make looming vistas
down a London street.

[Illustration: "High, eminent, blooming ambrosial fruit Of vegetable
gold;"--_Paradise Lost, IV._]

Of all places in the world, Baghdad, the city of Haroun-al-Raschid, is
the one around which cling the romantic ideas of the enchanted East.
For this reason "Chu Chin Chow" will probably be still running in ten
years' time. It is a play which has become almost a symbol of Eastern
romance. In Mesopotamia I observed that it was a standard of comparison.
"Like 'Chu Chin Chow'" or "quite the Oscar Asche touch" were expressions
frequently heard among our men who were describing something picturesque
they had seen.

Now I may as well confess before I go any further, that I have not seen
"Chu Chin Chow." I have never been able to get in. During the war, leave
in London was an opportunist affair, with no notice in advance to allow
for advance booking, and so I never succeeded in my quest of the glamour
of the East--on the stage. But war, which brought with it so many
disadvantages brought also many opportunities. Although I was unable to
get into His Majesty's Theatre, I succeeded in getting into Baghdad.

I found streets through which beggars and British officers, camels and
Ford cars jostled each other, often in vain attempts to get on. You can
imagine the state of things on a busy morning. By day there is so much
more rubbish and dirt to take the romance away from the picturesque, but
at night, especially by moonlight, the quaint streets of old Baghdad do
give an element of mystery and adventure that the Arabian Nights and the
stage lead us to expect.

[Illustration: PUFFING BILLY ON THE TIGRIS]

I came upon a wonderful group of buildings by the banks of the Tigris.
It appears to have been a disused mosque. The minarets are shorn of
their tops, and look like huge candlesticks. A dark passage, vaulted
like the aisle of a cathedral, led down to covered bazaars.

Again, at Basra, the House of Sinbad in Ashar Creek has quite the effect
of a wonderfully staged production. The huge, high-prowed mahailas, the
crazy wooden galleries skirting the river, the quaint, squat minaret
appearing over the flat roofs, and the dim light of lamps reflected in
the still water made a picture at twilight that it would be difficult to
beat for mystery and romance. A man in black with a fire of brushwood in
the bow of a mahaila added a touch of magic to the scene.

I don't know in the least what he was doing with this pillar of fire,
but it was extraordinarily effective, and it made you feel you were
getting your money's worth out of the show.

Or, again, for mystery and romance, here is another scene on the Tigris
between Amara and Kut.

The evening is still. No breeze stirs the sliding surface of the river.
On every side immeasurable plains stretch from horizon to horizon, "dim
tracts and vast, robed in the lustrous gloom of leaden-coloured even,"
save where the misty blue ridge of the Persian mountains links heaven to
earth, gleaming with a ghostly chain of snow beneath a rose-flushed sky.
A few marsh Arabs' reed huts and a distant fire are the only signs that
the world is inhabited. A faint rhythmical beating is growing more
distinct, the herald of the slow progress of an up-coming steamer.

Before night is fallen she has passed--a strange object with high funnel
and clattering stern paddle, an apparition it would seem from our
Western world of a hundred years ago, moving slowly across the crowded
stage of modern war's necessities. I observed her number was S 31, but I
believe she is known by her intimate friends as "Puffing Billy."

[Illustration]



IX

THE DESERT OF THE FLAMING SWORD

[Illustration: THE WALLS OF HIT]

[Illustration]



THE DESERT OF THE FLAMING SWORD


Since I have returned to England I constantly run up against people who
ask me, sometimes jokingly and sometimes almost seriously, if I have
brought back any sketches of the Garden of Eden, and a conversation
invariably follows as to the authenticity or otherwise of the
traditional site. Is it true that Mesopotamia was the cradle of the
human race, and, if so, are the descriptions in the book of Genesis
concerning the world known to Adam and Noah, however figuratively they
may be taken, in keeping with the natural conditions of such a land?
However much Paradise may have been lost, can the traveller see in
Mesopotamia any signs of beauty and richness of verdure out of which the
artist and the poet could visualize a garden of the Lord?

The answer, as they say in Parliament, where no one could be expected to
give a downright and straightforward "yes" or "no," is in the
affirmative. The scenes of these early dramas are characteristically
Mesopotamian. The well-ordered garden "planted" with the tree of life
"in the midst," and a river to water it, the ark of Noah pitched "within
and without with pitch" as the ancient goufa is still pitched, the Tower
of Babel, built with brick instead of stone and with slime (_i.e._
bitumen) for mortar--all these things belong to the flat, sun-baked
lands of this alluvial plain. At Kurna, Arab tradition has placed Eve's
Tree. It is a sorry looking, scraggy thing. It does not seem good for
food, nor is it pleasant for the eyes and a tree to be desired. Another
traditional Garden of Eden is at Amara, and the Eden of the Sumerian
version of the story is thought by Sir William Willcocks to have been on
the Euphrates between Anah and Hit.

[Illustration: SUNSET ON THE TIGRIS]

The "planting" of the garden and certain details brought out in the
short description of its features suggest very strongly the things that
would occur to the mind of a writer living in an irrigated country.
Milton's gorgeous backgrounds are almost entirely northern. He has
striven to give it an eastern touch here and there, but such stage
management consists chiefly in bringing in a few palms from the
greenhouse. His description "of a steep wilderness, whose hairy sides
with thicket overgrown, grotesque and wild," and "of that steep savage
hill," are entirely northern in feeling. The same northern wildness
pervades the garden. Note the "flowers worthy of Paradise, which not
nice Art in beds and curious knots, but Nature boon poured forth profuse
on hill and dale and plain." In irrigation lands like Mesopotamia it is
the combination of great heat and abundant water that makes for
luxuriant growth. Milton conceives the most romantic and wild scenery on
hill and dale and savage defile, suddenly brought into order for the use
of man. The Bible story speaks only of features to be found in a land
like Babylonia. Sir William Willcocks thinks that the word translated
"mist" would probably be better rendered "inundation," and that the
writer is speaking of a country where inundation rather than rainfall
was the support of life to the vegetable world. Genesis ii. 5 and 6
would then read:

"For the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there
was not a man to till the ground.

"But there went up an inundation from the earth, and watered the whole
face of the ground."

The description of the planting of the garden is very suggestive of a
tract of bare land to which irrigation has been brought. "And _out of
the ground_ made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to
the sight." The garden, too, is watered, not by rainfall, but by a river
which parts into different heads, as do the Tigris and Euphrates when
they spread out upon the flat alluvial land below Baghdad.

Compare the "scenery" in St. John's Revelation with that of the writer
of Genesis when the kings of the earth and the great men sought to hide
from the wrath of God. They "hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks
of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us and
hide us."

Adam and Eve could hide themselves only "amongst the trees" of the
garden.

[Illustration: SHEIK SAAD AND THE PERSIAN MOUNTAINS]


The story of Noah and the flood has a very close parallel in a record of
Berosus, the Babylonian priest Xisuthros had a dream in which the deity
announced to him that on a certain day all men should perish in a deluge
of water, and ordered him to take all the sacred writings and bury them
at Sippar, the City of the Sun, then to build a ship, provide it with
ample stores of food and drink and enter it with his family and his
dearest friends, also animals, both birds and quadrupeds of every kind.
Xisuthros did as he had been bidden. When the flood began to abate, on
the third day after the rain had ceased to fall, he sent out some birds
to see whether they would find any land, but the birds, having found
neither food nor place to rest upon, returned to the ship. A few days
later Xisuthros once more sent the birds out; but they again came
back to him, this time with muddy feet. On being sent out again a third
time they did not return at all. Xisuthros then knew that the land was
uncovered, made an opening in the roof of the ship, and saw that it was
stranded on the top of a mountain. He came out of the ship with his
wife, daughter, and pilot, built an altar, and sacrificed to the gods,
after which he disappeared together with them. When his companions came
out to seek him they did not see him, but a voice from Heaven informed
them that he had been translated among the gods to live for ever, as a
reward for his piety and righteousness. The voice went on to command the
survivors to return to Babylonia, unearth the sacred writings, and make
them known to men. They obeyed, and, moreover, built many cities and
restored Babylon.[3]

An eminent authority on the history of Mesopotamia told me that he
considered the deluge to have been a purely local catastrophe in the
flat land of Babylonia. The Arabs use the same word alternately for
mountain or desert. If such a use has come down from long ago the
extraordinary statements in Genesis vii. 20: "Fifteen cubits upward did
the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered," may be easily
reconciled. It has always seemed to me that mountains which were covered
by 24 feet of water must have looked very insignificant even in the flat
land of Chaldea. If, however, the word "desert" will serve equally well
for the word "mountain" we have an account of a flood that could easily
destroy the "world" of Mesopotamia. The annual flood from which the
nomadic inhabitants were used to escaping (as they do now by moving up
to the higher ground) became a wide-spread inundation till the highest
"desert" was covered and the population drowned.

The Biblical account of the Ark suggests to any dweller in Mesopotamia
that it was a gigantic mahaila. The pitching inside and out is still
practised in putting together some of the Euphrates boats, and the
method of making a goufa, covering it on both sides with bitumen, has a
strong family likeness to the method of boat-building used in those
primitive times.

The Jew, however, was always a typical landlubber, and one would expect
a specification for the building of a ship would lack nautical details.
Not so, however, the Assyrian tablet relating to the Ark. It was, we are
told, a true ship. It was decked in. It was well caulked in all its
seams. It was handed over to a pilot. It was navigated in proper style.
"I steered about the sea. The corpses drifted about like logs. I opened
a port-hole.... I steered over countries which were now a terrible sea."
The pilot made the land at Nizir and let her go aground.

Near Ezra's Tomb on the Tigris I saw a boat very much like Noah's ark of
the toy shop, and made a scribbled sketch of it, which is reproduced on
page 36.

[Illustration: HIT, KNOWN TO THE ARABS AS "THE MOUTH OF HELL"]

Beside the fertile tract of country above Hit on the Euphrates--a
land which has been identified as the Sumerian Garden of Eden--stretches
a wild and desolate region, a place of bitumen and smoke of incrusted
salt and sulphur, of rock and fiery heat--known to the Arabs as the
Mouth of Hell. It guards the garden from approach by the nature of its
inhospitable ground, and so I have called it, this burning wilderness,
the Desert of the Flaming Sword, The town of Hit, evil smelling and
grim, stands sentinel between the fertile river-bank and the
ever-smoking plain.

We reached this region in a car from Felujeh, travelling through
Dhibban, where we crossed the Euphrates by a bridge of boats and on to
Rhamadie. Thence the track is a rough one through desert country,
undulating in places and becoming rougher. Some ridges of barren hill
cut off the view from time to time as we approach Hit, and we surmount
one of these, obtaining a goodly prospect of the river, to plunge down
again into a wilderness glittering with crystals. At first sight we
might be entering the valley of diamonds of the Arabian Nights, but,
alas, a close inspection shows the glittering objects to be merely
pieces of rock, a sort of white marble. Then we come to mounds of
curious pale earth and ground yellow with sulphur, and then, far
descried beneath its black coils of smoke, the walls of Hit.

The car was boiling by this time, and owing to some breakage we had to
stop, as we drew close to the town. We left the driver, however, to
tinker about with the old Ford, and plunged into the wilds, Brown being
particularly anxious to see what all the smoke was about.

The sun heat was still intense, and it was difficult to tell the real
size of anything owing to the mirage. A sort of temple seemed to detach
itself from the ground, and it was apparently floating about in an
ever-changing lake. Little black men were stoking a furnace, and a river
of some black substance, well banked up with earth, was flowing at our
feet. I think I have seldom seen so weird a sight.

The ground is full of bitumen, and to make lime the Arabs stack up
alternate stones and blocks of bitumen, setting fire to the pile. The
effect of these kilns with their great columns of heavy, black smoke,
writhing and coiling up into the still sky, was indescribable.

The shadow of coming night crept across the desert, turning the gold and
purple of the ground to the colour of ashes. The high walls of the town
still caught the sunset and glowed dull red against the darkening sky. A
fringe of palms, beyond, showed where the river flowed, the river that
watered the garden where the land was green and good. But the grim
ramparts of Hit stretched like a line of fire between, forbidding and
impassable. Higher and higher the shadows climbed till the tall minaret
stood out alone, a sentinel and a flaming sword. A hundred sooty figures
toiled and grovelled in the ground.

In the sweat of their faces shall they eat bread.



X


THE KINGS OF THE EAST

[Illustration: Hit.]

[Illustration: SAMARA]



THE KINGS OF THE EAST


The future of Mesopotamia with its enormous productive potentialities is
a subject fraught with great interest to all those who have studied her
past. Will this country again become one of the granaries of the world,
and will it ever be, like Egypt, an important asset of our Empire? At
first, when the war had freed the country from the Turkish yoke, it was
assumed that it would rise into unheard-of prosperity under the fatherly
care of British protection. Schemes of irrigation, long planned and to
some small extent begun, even under the Turkish regime, were to re-stock
Eden and benefit the whole world. The Baghdad railway would bring the
wares of the East quickly to our doors, and it had even been
anticipated that Nineveh would become as much a resort for European
tourists as Rome.

All this, however, was foretold in the time when a new world was
expected as soon as hostilities ceased. Another tune has been called
now, and we find countless advocates of the policy to get out of
Mesopotamia altogether and let well alone. Capitalization, like charity,
we are told must begin at home, and thirty millions, estimated by the
Inspector of Irrigation in Egypt, as necessary to turn Mesopotamia into
a prosperous country with an annual revenue in fifty years time of ten
millions a year, should be used for house building in England and not
for empire building in Chaldea. On the other hand, wise men have told us
that the Mesopotamian oilfields near Mosul are to be of great
importance, like the Persian wells that have their pipe-line outfall at
Abadan, and that a firm and fatherly hand is necessary to keep the
country in a state of trade development. Should our sphere of influence
be withdrawn from Mesopotamia things will revert back to chaos. Already
trouble with the various tribes is brewing.

Not the least of the problems in controlling the marauding activities of
some of the nomadic tribes is the difficulty of meting out adequate
punishment to peace-breakers. The fact that all the stock-in-trade of a
township amounts to a few pots and pans and house material of cane
matting and mud makes it impossible to impress them by destroying their
houses. In a few days everything would be rebuilt as before. It could
often happen that the punitive expedition arrived to find the town moved
to some district not mentioned in the orders for the day.

[Illustration: A BRITISH CRUISER IN THE PERSIAN GULF]

Mesopotamia under the Turks was in some ways worse off than others of
his badly governed possessions. The officials who were sent from
Constantinople into various provinces regarded the job as a poor one, as
far as the amenities of life were concerned, and one to be endured while
making as big a pile as possible from the ground-down natives. I should
imagine that one of these officials would be about as popular with the
landowners as a publican was among the Jews.

An ancient prophecy foretells that the great river Euphrates shall be
dried up that the way of the kings of the East shall be prepared. The
time has come, if the war was indeed Armageddon. German engineers in
1914 had made a highway and effectively "dried up" the waters of the
river for the passage of the armies. They themselves expected to be
kings of the East although coming from the West, and some, it is
interesting to note, explain the Prussians as of Oriental origin. At the
same time the claims both of oil and empire kept us busy in the Persian
Gulf. It looked as if we were to share this new kingdom or sphere of
influence with Germany, until the war came and sorted things out.

There are some who see in vast irrigation schemes a "drying up" of the
Euphrates that shall bring colonists from the Far East so that the
denizens of China or Japan shall begin, like the Saxons in Kent, to get
a footing in the country and become, in very substance, the Yellow
Peril.

He is a rash man who would prophesy concerning the future of Mesopotamia
as far as our empire is concerned. Perhaps before these pages are in
print something decisive will have occurred. We read daily in our
newspapers of rumours of war with restless tribes around Mosul, and of
raids and skirmishes.

The land of Shinar, where Abraham dwelt, with its silent traces of the
great civilizations which it fostered, Babylonian and Assyrian, Persian,
Greek and Arabian, is once more, by the chances of war, an open book,
and time alone will show what is to be written therein.

[Illustration]

FOOTNOTES:

[1] "Adventures with a Sketch Book."

[2] Tennyson: "Recollections of the Arabian Nights."

[3] From Ragozin's _Chaldea_.


THE END



_BY THE SAME AUTHOR._

ADVENTURES WITH A SKETCH BOOK

With numerous Illustrations in colour and black and white by the Author.
Crown 4to. 12/6 net.

"Artistically, and from the literary point of view, it is one of the
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sketch book."--_Daily News._

"Contains many clever drawings.... Charmingly sketched."--_Evening
Standard._



_BY THE SAME AUTHOR._

THE LAST CRUSADE

1914-1918

With 100 Sketches In Colour, Monochrome, and Line made by the author in
the autumn and winter of 1918, when sent on duty to Palestine by the
Admiralty for the Imperial War Museum. Crown 4to £1 5s. net.

"Exceedingly interesting.... The letterpress is full of vitality and
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"The drawings possess great artistic merit. One of the most attractive
books which the war has yet evoked."--Connoisseur.



John Lane, The Bodley Head, Vigo St., W. 1.





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