CHAPTER XVII. FROM BOMBAY TO BAGHDAD.
DEPARTURE FROM BOMBAY - SMALL-POX - MUSCAT - BANDR-ABAS - THE PERSIANS - THE KISHMA STRAITS - BUSCHIR - ENTRANCE INTO THE SCHATEL-ARAB - BASSORA - ENTRANCE INTO THE TIGRIS - BEDOUIN TRIBES - CTESIPHON AND SELEUCIA - ARRIVAL AT BAGHDAD.
The steamer "Sir Charles Forbes" (forty horse-power, Captain Lichfield) had only two cabins, a small and a large one. The former had already been engaged for some time by an Englishman, Mr. Ross; the latter was bespoken by some rich Persians for their wives and children. I was, therefore, obliged to content myself with a place upon deck; however, I took my meals at the captain's table, who showed me the most extreme attention and kindness during the whole voyage.
The little vessel was, in the fullest sense of the word, overloaded with people; the crew alone numbered forty-five; in addition to that there were 124 passengers, chiefly Persians, Mahomedans, and Arabs. Mr. Ross and myself were the only Europeans. When this crowd of persons were collected, there was not the smallest clear space on the deck; to get from one place to another it was necessary to climb over innumerable chests and boxes, and at the same time to use great caution not to tread upon the heads or feet of the people.
In such critical circumstances I looked about immediately to see where I could possibly secure a good place. I found what I sought, and was the most fortunate of all the passengers, more so than even Mr. Ross, who could not sleep any night in his cabin on account of the heat and insects. My eye fell upon the under part of the captain's dinner-table, which was fixed upon the stern deck; I took possession of this place, threw my mantle round me, so that I had a pretty secure position, and no cause to fear that I should have my hands, feet, or indeed my head trodden upon.
I was somewhat unwell when I left Bombay, and on the second day of the voyage a slight attack of bilious fever came on. I had to contend with this for five days. I crept painfully from my asylum at meal times to make way for the feet of the people at table. I did not take any medicine (I carried none with me), but trusted to Providence and my good constitution.
A much more dangerous malady than mine was discovered on board on the third day of the voyage. The small-pox was in the large cabin. Eighteen women and seven children were crammed in there. They had much less room than the negroes in a slave-ship; the air was in the highest degree infected, and they were not allowed to go on the deck, filled as it was with men; even we deck passengers were in great anxiety lest the bad air might spread itself over the whole ship through the opened windows. The disease had already broken out on the children before they were brought on board; but no one could suspect it, as the women came late at night, thickly veiled, and enveloped in large mantles, under which they carried the children. It was only on the third day, when one of the children died, that we discovered our danger.
The child was wrapped in a white cloth, fastened upon a plank, which was weighted by some pieces of coal or stone, and lowered into the sea. At the moment that it touched the water, the waves closed over it, and it was lost to our sight.
I do not know whether a relation was present at this sad event; I saw no tears flow. The poor mother might, indeed, have sorrowed, but she dare not accompany her child; custom forbade it.
Two more deaths occurred, the other invalids recovered, and the contagion happily did not spread any further.
30th April. Today we approached very near to the Arabian coast, where we saw a chain of mountains which were barren and by no means attractive. On the following morning (1st of May) small forts and watch-towers made their appearance, here and there, upon the peaks of beautiful groups of rock, and presently, also, a large one was perceptible upon an extensive mountain at the entrance of a creek.
We came to anchor off the town of Muscat, which lies at the extremity of the creek. This town, which is subject to an Arabian prince, is very strongly fortified, and surrounded by several ranges of extraordinarily formed rocks, all of which are also occupied by forts and towers. The largest of these excites a sad reminiscence: it was formerly a cloister of Portuguese monks, and was attacked by the Arabs one night, who murdered the whole of its inmates. This occurrence took place about two centuries since.
The houses of the town are built of stone, with small windows and terraced roofs. Two houses, distinguished from the others only by their larger dimensions, are the palaces of the mother of the reigning prince, and of the sheikh (governor). Some of the streets are so narrow that two persons can scarcely walk together. The bazaar, according to the Turkish custom, consists of covered passages, under which the merchants sit cross-legged before their miserable stalls.
In the rocky valley in which Muscat lies the heat is very oppressive (124 degrees Fah. in the sun), and the sunlight is very injurious to the eyes, as it is not in the slightest degree softened by any vegetation. Far and wide there are no trees, no shrubs or grass to be seen. Every one who is in any way engaged here, go as soon as their business is finished to their country-houses situated by the open sea. There are no Europeans here; the climate is considered fatal to them.