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It is a windy night. Elsewhere it might be called a tempestuous night, but up in the north country of New Hampshire we are used to high winds, and this is only a gale, not a tempest. The forest is uttering thunderous voices, such as it always utters when arguing with the wind. You can find resemblances to any and every sound you ever heard in these forest sounds. Low voices in various tones mingle with the roar. Sitting here in the cabin, you will think them like whatever your mind happens to be directed towards. I have been reading a book; therefore I hear the sound of the surf on a reef, and the whistling of the wind through the cordage of a ship, and the cries of people in many tones. I have been reading an account of a traveller landing from a ship at the port of Jaffa — ancient Joppa — the seaport of Jerusalem. They call it a port, but it is no port. The steamer anchors in the offing. If the wind be off shore you can go safely enough through the break in the reef; if the wind be otherwise, and be only a little fresh, the landing is difficult, sometimes impracticable. Several times I have gone through the reef, and fought my way up the steps into the crowd of Turks, Arabs, and infidels on the shore street of that wretched Jaffa. The last time that I was there I did not go ashore. The day was memorable, and comes back in memory whenever, as now, I read of the experience of travellers on their way to the Holy City.
We were coming down the coast of the Levant on the Austrian Lloyds' steamer. The only first-class passenger on board besides ourselves was a Greek caloyer; but the deck of the ship was loaded with hundreds of poor pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem — a crowd of men, women, and children of various nationalities, mostly showing signs of extreme poverty, and all very far away from godliness in the matter of cleanliness. It was difficult to make one's way along the deck without treading on arms or legs or children. Why do those poor pilgrims always take such crowds of children to Jerusalem?
In the cabin all was pleasant. The steamer was of the first-class, and her table was of the best I ever saw at sea. It was in consequence thereof that I made the acquaintance of the priest, our only fellow-traveller; for at the dinner-table we sat down only five persons, of whom two were the captain and the ship's surgeon; and when I praised a dish, the latter spoke, saying, "We are proud of our table, and think we have the best cook but one in the Austrian Lloyds' service."
"Yes, he is certainly a great cook; but who is his superior?"
"His father, who is one of the oldest cooks in the service, and has six sons, all cooks in the service, and two daughters married to cooks in the service."
"A valuable family to the service," said a remarkably gentle and yet strong voice at my side, and I turned to look at the man who had just taken his place by me. He was a man of forty or forty-five, full six feet high, wearing the elevated black cap of the Greek Church. His face was singularly attractive and impressive, the features sharp cut, forehead high, complexion surprisingly white and pure, eyes dark, full of life and full of benevolence. It was a face to fall in love with. The expression of his eye as my glance met his was winning, and his whole appearance that of power and saintliness combined. Somewhat such a man I think was the Apostle John. It is rare to meet one whose look impresses you thus with the thought that this man is not of the world, worldly. I had prejudices against Greek monks and priests, for most of those that one meets in Egypt and Syria are ignorant, absolutely dirty in dress and person, and generally objectionable; but of this man I said at once he is a typical Caloyer, καλος yερος — a "beautiful elder" in the Church; and with a suddenness, of which I doubt not you remember examples in your experience among men, I yielded myself to the charm which drew me towards him. It soon appeared that he was a man of much learning as well as much experience among men, and our conversation, commenced at the dinner-table, continued on deck until late in the night.
Thrown by accident on a steamer loaded with Greek pilgrims, he found work to do, and he did it here as everywhere, on his Master's service. He seemed at once to know the case of every family and group among them; and though many were uncouth and by no means gentle in their manners, he was rapidly recognized by all, or most of them, as a good pastor, and was unwearying in his attention, especially to the sick and suffering, of whom there were not a few. When we came out from Beyrout to run down the Phoenician coast, we met a sirocco, and there is no storm more trying. Hot and fierce, the wind seemed to cut off your breath as with a red-hot sword, and all day long the blue seas went over the ship, half-drowning the miserable pilgrims who lay huddled in masses all over the deck. It was a brief luxury of rest when we ran under the lee of Mount Carmel and dropped anchor for an hour or two at Haifa.
It is memorable now, in connection with what afterwards occurred, that we talked that evening of pilgrimages. He was making the pilgrimage. He had never seen Jerusalem, and was now devoutly going to the Sepulchre. Across the plain of Esdraelon, which touches the sea near Haifa, we looked at the huge slopes of Lebanon, and I tried to point out to him, among more distant mountains, the peaks of Tabor and Gilboa, the hills that are around Nazareth, and the dark summit of Little Hermon, which looks down on the blue beauty of the Sea of Galilee. And then we talked of pilgrims in old times, in all the ages, and spoke especially of the exceeding bitterness of their disappointment who, after long journeys across Europe and over the sea, reached the gates of Jerusalem, and when the Saracens forbade their entrance, lay down and died under the very walls, never having seen the Sepulchre.
The sun went down in white dust, the desert sand of Arabia flying over the sea before the sirocco, and the ship again plunged into the face of the tempest. In the morning at daybreak we anchored in the roadstead off Jaffa, two miles or so from the shore, and the first fierce jerk of the ship at her chain threatened to hurl everything out of her. What an anchorage that was! A tremendous sea was running. Under ordinary circumstances the captain would not have anchored, but would have gone on with his passengers to Alexandria. This is sometimes, often, the luck of those who seek to reach Jerusalem. But it lacked only a few days of the Greek Easter, the great day of the pilgrimage, and if carried on to Egypt, these hundreds of poor pilgrims would miss the chief object of their long journey. So the good Austrian officer anchored, and fired cannon to tell the Jaffa boatmen that it was for them to decide whether they would take the risk of coming out through the surf on the reef. We rolled and plunged and waited. About nine or ten o'clock, the wind seeming to draw a little more directly off shore, the shore boats began to appear and disappear, rising and falling on the great waves as they came towards the ship, and at length were alongside. It was a fearful business to get into them, the steamer rolling over almost on her beam ends at every sea. With long delay and much danger, boat after boat received a load of pilgrims and luggage, and one after another went tossing shoreward and safely passed the opening in the reef.
On board were left fifteen or twenty timid women and men who had not dared the fearful descent of the ship's ladder, and my friend, the priest, who had remained to the last to give them all his aid and comfort. There was one queer little old woman who passed the time in alternate shrieking, laughing, and crying. Ten times she essayed the ladder when the ship rolled to port, and rushed back or tumbled back on deck when the angle changed and the bottom step was ten feet above the boat. The priest gently encouraged her, but in vain, and at last a sailor, watching his chance as she once more shrieked and fell back, seized her in his arms, rushed down the steps and tossed her like a bundle into the boat. She was the last except my friend. I took his hand, and we parted with many Oriental words of peace. He reached the boat, took his seat on a bench in the middle, and as she swung across the stern of the ship on a long wave he bared his noble head, and with repeated waves of our hands, and words lost in the storm, we exchanged the last salutations. He looked like a pastor with his flock around him. Calm, silent, his forehead swept with the fierce sirocco wind which he was facing, I followed them with my eyes, now on wave tops, now wholly lost to sight. At length I used my glass — a fine marine glass — it lies here to-night on the cabin table — and with that I kept them steadily in view. The reef was a white wall of foam dashing high into the air. As they approached a narrow opening where a darker sea indicated the passage, the waves grew shorter. Their boat appeared and vanished in quick succession. "Are they past the opening?" "I cannot tell; I think they are just in it. The sea is awful." And the words were not uttered when in the field of my glass I saw a terrible vision. The boat was lifted on a mass of water, it rose high, and then suddenly I saw the bow thrown up, a hideous confusion of men and women and children among oars and baggage were hurled into the white surf on the reef, which leaped into the air triumphant, and I saw no more of them; only the upturned boat, floating, and tossed now and then into full view, swept northward along the shore, and finally went on the sandy beach in the breakers a half-mile north of the northern wall of the city.
So seeking Jerusalem that is below, before his pilgrim sandals had yet touched the soil of the beloved land, my newly-made and newly-lost friend, the good priest, found Jerusalem that is above, the mother of us all.
I have thought of him a thousand times since then, most frequently when in the forest on windy nights. In the roar of the mountain storm which rages around the cabin, mingled with the shrieks of the forest trees writhing and intertwining their giant arms, I recall that pale, calm face and commanding form as the boat sweeps shoreward on the great seas of the Mediterranean; and while I see him wave his hand, I can hear again and again and again, as I could not then hear what I knew he was saying, Salame, salame, salame, "Peace, peace, peace." And I know that in every tempest, on land or sea, the war of the elements is but a little agitation which to our weak sense seems great. The mountain stands calm, though my cabin shakes in the storm, and the surroundings which I have made seem ready to be swept away. And the Peace of Jerusalem — the peace that passes our understanding — the peace whose blessing he gave me across the sea when he waved his white hand to me in the sirocco blast — that peace is more calm than the mountain, more enduring than sea and shore, and abides forever in the City of Peace whither he went that morning through the tempest.