Such is the general outline of Katar. On landing at Bedaa' we went right to the castle, a donjon-keep, with outhouses at its foot, offering more accommodation for goods than for men.|
Under a mat-spread and mat-hung shed within the court sat the chief, Mohammed-ebn-Thanee, a shrewd wary old man, slightly corpulent, and renowned for prudence and good-humoured easiness of demeanour, but close-fisted and a hard customer at a bargain; altogether, he had much more the air of a businesslike avaricious pearl-merchant (and such he really is), than of an Arab ruler. Bound him were placed many sallow-featured individuals, their skins soddened by frequent sea-diving, and their faces wrinkled into computations and accounts. However, Ebn-Thanee, though eminently a "practical " man, had thus far put his sedentary habits to intellectual profit, that by dint of study he had rendered himself a tolerable proficient in literary and poetical knowledge, and took great pleasure in discussing topics of this nature. Nay, he even pretended to have some medical skill, and did I think really possess about the same amount of it that many an old woman may boast of in a country village of Lancashire or Essex. Besides, he liked a joke, and could give and take one with a good grace.
He enquired about my journey. I replied that I had no special business on hand for Katar, and that I was merely on my way to Mascat [Muscat, Oman] in search of herbs and drugs [Palgrave, a Jesuit priest who later renounced the church, was posing as a Syrian physician while gathering intelligence for the Jesuits and for the French Government of Napoleon III].
Ebn-Khamees, who was now an important character, thanks to the presents in his charge, sat close by the chief in all the grandeur of a new black mantle and a silken head-dress, furnished by Aboo-'Eysa. Mohammed-ebn-Thanee himself wore a Bengalee turban, of the date of Suraj-Dowlah [Siraj ud-Daulah, 1733-1757], to judge by its dingy appearance; his robe was an overdress which a Damascene grocer would have been ashamed to display out of doors.
He apologized for want of room to lodge us suitably in the palace itself. I cast a look round its narrow precincts and loopholed stone walls, and fully accepted the excuse. Ebn-Thanee had by anticipation caused a warehouse close by to be emptied of the dates it held, and fitted up in Katar style for our reception; that is, mats were spread, and nothing more. We of course expressed due thanks for hospitality here regarded as munificent, drank coffee, talked awhile, and retired.
Ebn-Khamees had soon shot his bolt, that is, offered his presents. But their receiver, the old pearl-monger, could not with equal speed make up his mind about the amount to be tendered in requital, and no less than eight days passed before a suitable retribution had been proposed and accepted. This delay, especially in bad lodgings and with much before us better worth seeing, was annoying enough, the more so that four days were fully sufficient for knowing all worth the knowing in so monotonous a country. However, the time did not go by wholly without profit, for it gave me leisure to make some excursions into the vicinity.
The town of Bedaa' itself was soon explored. It owns a long narrow and dirty market-place, where some Bahreyn shopkeepers and artisans ply their business on a small scale; for the rest, Bedaa' consists of a mass of little narrow dingy houses, separated by irregular lanes. The total amount of its inhabitants when on land, which is not often the case, reaches about six thousand; a few colonists from Hasa come hither to try their fortune and grumble at the country. Everywhere one meets fishermen's wives, and their brats, more dirty and more clamorous than any in Crabbe's [George Crabbe 1754—1832] "Borough," and ill-dressed men, too careworn to be sociable.
If we go down to the beach, we find there line on line of huge black boats, whose grooved edges show where the divers' cords have been let down, for a rope is always tied round the waist of the plunger, while the other end is held by his companions, and by this they draw him up when required.
And now my reader may fairly appreciate Bedaa', and the attractions it presents to eyes, ears, and, like most seaport towns, to nostrils also. Still the people are not by nature ungracious or inhospitable, but they are over-engrossed by their occupations; and lastly, long-continued diving, accompanied by all the privations and hardships inseparable from weeks and months at sea in open boats, give to the males the appearance of men totally knocked-up.
Till within quite recently Bedaa' owned neither mosque nor any other recognized place for public worship, and we must hope that every one satisfied his devotional obligations in private. But since the late Nejdean invasion, and the establishment of Ahmedes-Sedeyree at Bereymah, a "revival" in favour of Islam has taken place in some parts of Katar, and two mosques now adorn the town of Bedaa'. One of these edifices is large, but plain and unomamental, in the approved Wahhabee taste; it stands to the north of the castle. The other, situated at the opposite extremity of the village, is smaller, but much handsomer, with an open arched portico in semi-Persian style. Mohammed-ebn-Thanee, whether from political motives or from sincere conviction, I know not, perhaps from a mixture of both, is very devout, and often performs in person the duties of Imam in the larger mosque, for want of a more appropriate personage in this town, where few sacrifice to Minerva.
The smaller "Mesjid" [mosque] is destined for the use of his eldest son and heir Kasim [Jassim bin Muhammed Al Thani, 1826—1913], a more dashing character than his father, but equally close-fisted. His castle or residence, a white square building with little battlements and pointed windows, almost like imitation Gothic, stands near the southern extremity of Bedaa'; beyond it low rocks shut in the bay.
We were soon tired of drinking bad coffee, for the berry of Yemen here gives place to the inferior produce of India, unpalatable stuff to those accustomed to real Mokha [Mocha]; tired too of hearing or spinning long yarns in Ebn-Thanee's divan, and of snuffing up the bad air of a dirty coast and muddy beach. So we resolved to diversify our Katar existence by a few trips to the localities around.
My first visit was to Dowhah [Doha], a village to the north of Bedaa', and of about half its size; it is situated, as its name of "inlet " or "creek" imports, in a small deep bay, where the cliffs behind, sixty or eighty feet high, give it a somewhat picturesque appearance. But the houses of Dowhah are even lower and meaner than at Bedaa', and the market-place is narrower and dirtier. Two castles overtop the place: one stands on the neighbouring cliff, the other within the town itself; the chief is a small sub-collector to Ebn-Thanee. Hither, three days before my departure from Katar, arrived the wife-hunting governor of Bahreyn in pacific quest of a temporary Helen, as above described.
My next excursion was to Wokrah [Al Wakrah], a town equalling Bedaa' in extent, but situated higher up on the shore, and of a more cheerful character. Its young chief, also a Mohammed by name, but not of the Ebn-Thanee family, proved intelligent and polite, besides being much more hospitable than his namesake at Bedaa'. In government and police Wokrah is independent of any other town. Under the patronage of its chief, several small traders and artisans from Bahreyn have established themselves here; and Wokrah has on the whole a thriving look.
The road leading to it from Bedaa' is bleak and barren, close along the coast; the distance is within ten miles. I made the journey on a hired donkey, these animals being the ordinary conveyance in Katar for short distances; my beast was equipped with a sidesaddle, which made me look if not like a gentleman, at least in one respect like a lady, while my long Arab shirt might represent a riding-habit. Nor did I take with me any companion, so secure are the coast-roads, and so many the comers and goers in this land where business supersedes or suspends mischief.
But my associate Ebn-Khamees, more in search of profit than of pleasure, imagined that a few packages of dates might be acceptable to Kasim, the old chief's son, and would needs try his luck with that nobleman, in spite of all I could say to the contrary. Kasim was at the time absent from Bedaa' on a hawking-party some twelve or fourteen miles off to the southwest. We procured dromedaries, mounted, and rode on our way, over desert uplands and pebbly tracts. We passed bands of women in quest of water from the distant wells; and flocks of sheep, or rather of goats, for the breed is of ambiguous appearance, well guarded by numerous shepherds; occasionally we met some traveller with his lance over his shoulder against the perils of a Bedouin frontier. No trees, little herbage, and a cold keen wind from the north.
At last we reached the desired spot, a tolerably grassy valley amid undulations and hillocks on the marge of the "waste and howling wilderness." Here in tents, bivouac guise, was the young chief with his retainers, on the look-out for partridges and quails, of which he had hitherto caught few; with an eye too on hares, or I had better said on those equivocal animals, half hare, half rabbit, which abound on the Arab mainland. Kasim had with him about twenty horsemen, falconers, and half a dozen lovely hawks, besides two brace of greyhounds ("Selakee" they call them here); a thorough hunting-party, except that there was not a single fowling-piece among them.
We remained half a day in his highness's society, and enjoyed a sort of Arab pic-nic, enlivened by hawking. For a minute description of this sport in the East, I may refer my readers to that well-known and accurate work, Layard's [Sir Austen Henry Layard, 1817–1894] "Nineveh..."
Yoosef-ebn-Khamees delivered his presents and received fair words, but little else. Kasim appeared to me even less amiable than his father; narrow-minded and less well informed than the old man, while at the same time he was more pretentious and haughty. He affects the Nejdean in dress and manner, but has far more devotion at heart for the diva pecunia than for the precepts of the Coran [Qur'an, Koran]. His men, like those of Justice Shallow [from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor], had a "semblable coherence with their master's spirits," which rendered their society dry and unprofitable.
Next morning we took leave of Kasim, and returned by the way we came, to eat fish and drink bad coffee with Ebn-Thanee. We waited yet a couple of days, hoping for a favourable wind to convey us straight across the Gulf to 'Oman. The land journey by the coast would have required at least a fortnight, perhaps more; and the reports current in Katar touching the rapacity of the Benoo-Yass, their treachery and other ill qualities, did not encourage us to try their hospitality, especially with Yoosef's presents and retributions in our keeping. Besides, all affirmed the road to be even more desolate and monotonous than that of Katar itself, and that it could offer nothing to repay our labour in traversing it. The sands of the Dahna reach the very margin of the sea; a glance at the map will enable my reader to understand this district.
Accordingly we proposed following the diameter of the semicircle over-sea, in preference to its sandy circumference, and thus make direct for Sharjah, the first considerable town situated within the territory of 'Oman proper. For this a worthy young sea-captain, native of Charak [Bandar Charak] on the opposite Persian coast, offered us his ship and services. But here again the future had for us more roundabouts in store than had entered into our original calculation. "The traveller can reckon his setting out, not his return," says a trite Arab proverb, true in some degree everywhere, but most so in the East.
Our captain was soon ready for sailing, and his crew on board. We made our parting arrangements, and on February 6 , while a lovely evening promised a fair morrow, and a light west wind seemed to ensure us a good and speedy passage to Sharjah, we took our leave of Mohammed-ebn-Thanee, who had now become very intimate in his way, said adieu to three or four other friends acquired at Bedaa', and entrusted ourselves to a little boat, wherein Faris, to give our captain his proper name, with his younger brother Ahmed and two of the crew, had come to fetch us off to the ship. We now crossed by rowing the same space that I had footed over the sand some days before; but then it had been ebb, whereas now the full tide was running in ten or twelve feet deep.
The flux and reflux of the waters is here only once in twenty-three hours, that is, at every alternate period; at Bahreyn and on the coasts of Persia and 'Oman it is once in eleven. The peculiar position of Katar and of the Benoo-Yass region at the bottom of a deep gulf, will explain this meteorological phenomenon to my scientific readers; the Arabs content themselves with noticing and wondering at it.
After a quarter of an hour's pull we reached the schooner. She was large and well built, provided with an elegant captain's cabin, a fore-cabin, and other nautical arrangements; in fine, she was infinitely superior to the miserable craft in which we had left Bahreyn. She was built for quick sailing, with two masts, large lateen sails, and a jib; her stern and prow were prettily carved; indeed the latter surmounted the waves with a seanymph figurehead; a token of non-compliance with the Islamitic prohibition, which excludes the representation of whatever has life from the sphere of ornamental art...