Chapter I. Life in a Syrian Quarantine.
Voyage from Alexandria to Beyrout - Landing at Quarantine - The
Guardiano - Our Quarters - Our Companions - Famine and Feasting - The
Morning - The Holy Man of Timbuctoo - Sunday in Quarantine - Islamism - We
are Registered - Love through a Grating - Trumpets - The Mystery
Explained - Delights of Quarantine - Oriental vs. American
Exaggeration - A Discussion of Politics - Our
Release - Beyrout - Preparations for the Pilgrimage.
"The mountains look on Quarantine,
And Quarantine looks on the sea."
In Quarantine, Beyrout, Saturday, April 17, 1852.
Everybody has heard of Quarantine, but in our favored country there are many untravelled persons who do not precisely know what it is, and who no doubt wonder why it should be such a bugbear to travellers in the Orient. I confess I am still somewhat in the same predicament myself, although I have already been twenty-four hours in Quarantine. But, as a peculiarity of the place is, that one can do nothing, however good a will he has, I propose to set down my experiences each day, hoping that I and my readers may obtain some insight into the nature of Quarantine, before the term of my probation is over.
I left Alexandria on the afternoon of the 14th inst., in company with Mr. Carter Harrison, a fellow-countryman, who had joined me in Cairo, for the tour through Palestine. We had a head wind, and rough sea, and I remained in a torpid state during most of the voyage. There was rain the second night; but, when the clouds cleared away yesterday morning, we were gladdened by the sight of Lebanon, whose summits glittered with streaks of snow. The lower slopes of the mountains were green with fields and forests, and Beyrout, when we ran up to it, seemed buried almost out of sight, in the foliage of its mulberry groves. The town is built along the northern side of a peninsula, which projects about two miles from the main line of the coast, forming a road for vessels. In half an hour after our arrival, several large boats came alongside, and we were told to get our baggage in order and embark for Quarantine. The time necessary to purify a traveller arriving from Egypt from suspicion of the plague, is five days, but the days of arrival and departure are counted, so that the durance amounts to but three full days. The captain of the Osiris mustered the passengers together, and informed them that each one would be obliged to pay six piastres for the transportation of himself and his baggage. Two heavy lighters are now drawn up to the foot of the gangway, but as soon as the first box tumbles into them, the men tumble out. They attach the craft by cables to two smaller boats, in which they sit, to tow the infected loads. We are all sent down together, Jews, Turks, and Christians - a confused pile of men, women, children, and goods. A little boat from the city, in which there are representatives from the two hotels, hovers around us, and cards are thrown to us. The zealous agents wish to supply us immediately with tables, beds, and all other household appliances; but we decline their help until we arrive at the mysterious spot. At last we float off - two lighters full of infected, though respectable, material, towed by oarsmen of most scurvy appearance, but free from every suspicion of taint.
The sea is still rough, the sun is hot, and a fat Jewess becomes sea-sick. An Italian Jew rails at the boatmen ahead, in the Neapolitan patois, for the distance is long, the Quarantine being on the land-side of Beyrout. We see the rows of little yellow houses on the cliff, and with great apparent risk of being swept upon the breakers, are tugged into a small cove, where there is a landing-place. Nobody is there to receive us; the boatmen jump into the water and push the lighters against the stone stairs, while we unload our own baggage. A tin cup filled with sea-water is placed before us, and we each drop six piastres into it - for money, strange as it may seem, is infectious. By this time, the guardianos have had notice of our arrival, and we go up with them to choose our habitations. There are several rows of one-story houses overlooking the sea, each containing two empty rooms, to be had for a hundred piastres; but a square two-story dwelling stands apart from them, and the whole of it may be had for thrice that sum. There are seven Frank prisoners, and we take it for ourselves. But the rooms are bare, the kitchen empty, and we learn the important fact, that Quarantine is durance vile, without even the bread and water. The guardiano says the agents of the hotel are at the gate, and we can order from them whatever we want. Certainly; but at their own price, for we are wholly at their mercy. However, we go down stairs, and the chief officer, who accompanies us, gets into a corner as we pass, and holds a stick before him to keep us off. He is now clean, but if his garments brush against ours, he is lost. The people we meet in the grounds step aside with great respect to let us pass, but if we offer them our hands, no one would dare to touch a finger's tip.