[Illustration: READY FOR A CAMEL RIDE.]
There are no pumps in Arabia, but plenty of wells. There are no woods in Arabia, but plenty of trees. The camel is a topsy-turvy ship and the ostrich a topsy-turvy bird. The Arabs call the former the ship of the desert; and the latter they say is half camel and half bird. In some parts of Arabia horses and cows are fed on boiled fish because that is cheaper than grass! In other parts of the country donkeys are fed on dates. Arabia has more sultans and princes than any other country of the same size and yet it is a land without a settled government. The people never meet one another without saying “Peace to you”; yet there has never been any peace over the whole land since Christ’s birth or even since the days of Ishmael.
Every one carries a weapon and yet there are very few wild animals. It is more dangerous to meet a Bedouin than a lion when you are a stranger on the road. The Arabs are a nation of robbers. Now you will wonder how we can also say that Orientals are the most hospitable of any people in the world for the Arabs are Orientals. And yet it is strictly true that these robbers are more hospitable, in a way, than you people of Western countries. They have a proverb which says that “Every stranger is an invited guest”; and another which says, “The guest while in the house is its lord.” If an Arab gets after you to rob or kill you, it is only necessary to take refuge in his tent for safety. He is bound then, by the rules of Oriental hospitality, to treat you as his guest. But you must not stay there too long and you must be careful how you get away! You will find instances of this respect for the duty of hospitality all through the Bible story. It was in the earliest Bible times, as later and as now, a grievous sin to be inhospitable. The cradle of the Mohammedan religion is Arabia, and yet in no country are they more ignorant of their religion. How sad to think that when they do worship God they do it in such an ignorant and idolatrous way! In our next chapter we shall see more about this.
Arabia has no national flag, no national hymn and no national feeling. Every one lives for himself and no one cares for his neighbour. This does not sound strange of robbers but it does of people who are so hospitable. This queer country we are about to visit together and talk over with each other.
You will not grow weary by the way, we hope. If the desert tracks are long and tiresome through the following chapters, just refresh yourself in the oasis of a picture.
THE SQUARE-HOUSE WITH THE BLACK OVERCOAT