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138

SOLOMON'S PONDS.

successor, and his successor for the governor who shall come after him; meanwhile monuments fall from age, buildings crumble to dust, the oppressed emigrate, or stay but to suffer; every thing languishes, every thing decays, every thing perishes.

These extensive ponds evidently bear the stamp of the most remote antiquity; and the most obstinate incredulity could not dispute with Solomon the glory of having constructed them. They are partly hewn out of the rock, and must have cost immense labour. You can scarcely believe your eyes when you reflect that they have been formed in the flanks of the rock, without the aid of gunpowder, which was then unknown.

The last of these reservoirs is but half as capacious as the first; I know not its precise dimensions, or those of the two others : I had not time to measure them. Not far off, my attention was directed to a little spring, which, I was assured, supplies all the water in those ponds. This assertion appeared to me ridiculous : without abundant rains it is not possible that they should ever be full.

Two hundred paces from Bethlehem, in another di. rection, is a grotto of the same kind as that of the Nativity, but not so large, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. It is called the Grotto of Milk. Tradition relates that, before the flight into Egypt, Mary concealed herself there for some time. Here is seen an altar cut out of the rock, where mass is sometimes held, and where also the litanies are chanted.

The devotion for this place is great; the motive for it is the virtue universally attributed to the stones of the

VILLAGE OF THE SHEPHERDS.

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grotto. As these stones are very soft, it is easy to chip off bits, which are reduced to powder, and in that form administered to suckling women whose milk is scanty. Not only the Greeks, the Armenians, the Russians, and in general all the nations that have pilgrims at Jerusalem, attach great confidence to this powder, but even the Turks and the Arabs, who carry it to Turkey, and into the very heart of Africa.

I shall make no remark on the virtue of these stones, and on its causes. I merely affirm, as an ascertained fact, that a great number of persons obtain from it the effect which they anticipate.

Half a league from this grotto, eastward, beyond a hill, which you descend by a very rapid declivity, is the Village of the Shepherds. This is the spot where dwelt the shepherds to whom the angels appeared for the purpose of proclaiming to them the birth of the Saviour. It may be perceived very distinctly from the terrace of the monastery, and I always contemplate it with pleasure. The history of which it reminds you is one of those which, from my earliest years, made the most agreeable impression upon my memory, and I never knew a Christian child for whom it had not the same charms. At that age, much more than when the passions have introduced a proud wisdom into the soul, one finds, one feels in it something truly heavenly, and, thanks to the innocence and the purity of the heart, one speedily and cheerfully ranges one's self, if I may be allowed the expression, on the side of Him, who, in admitting wellmeaning men to the presence of his divine Son, has given to shepherds the precedence before kings.

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VILLAGE OF THE SHEPHERDS.

This village is inhabited half by Catholics, half by Greeks. It is built like all those in these parts. Each house is a heap of stones piled up without order, and exhibiting nearly the appearance of irregular walls, in which are two holes, called, one the door, the other the window. We were shown a well, whither, according to tradition, the Virgin came to wash the clothes of the infant Jesus, while she was secreted in the Grotto of Milk.

The very spot where the shepherds heard the voices of the angels is now inclosed with walls. It is planted with fifty or sixty olive trees. The care of it is committed to a Greek priest, whom I found destitute of every thing, and in a state of such abject poverty, that he had scarcely rags to cover his skin, scorched by the sun. This unfortunate creature asked me for some tobacco; as I had none, I made amends by giving him a few pieces of money, which he received with profound gratitude. I bought of him permission to cut an olive branch thick enough to make me a walking-stick.

In the centre of the inclosure is a grotto, in which St. Helena caused a chapel to be built and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. On entering, I fell upon my knees, and, according to my custom of reading on the very spot, in that attitude, and uncovered, the passages relating to it, I read, with an extraordinary feeling of happiness, that passage of the Gospel of St. Luke, beginning with these words:

“ And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

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The chapel and the inclosure of the Shepherds belonged formerly to the Latins; I need not tell you that they have been dispossessed of them.

As I had yesterday a long excursion before me, I mounted my horse before it was light: I intended to visit the ancient Tekoa, the birth-place of the prophet Amos; next, the Labyrinth, a name given to a series of caverns, the number of which is so considerable that it is still unknown; and, lastly, the hill of the French, so called ever since the last crusade, because, after the taking of Jerusalem by the Saracens, four hundred French retired thither, and, having built a very strong castle, the ruins of which may be seen to this day, they held out there for a long time.

As usual, I had with me several monks and an escort. After a ride of two hours along a stony road, and after crossing several hills of difficult access, you arrive at Tekoa. It is now but a heap of stones, covering a space of half a league. In surveying these ruins, I perceived a pillar of red marble and a basin also of marble, surmounted by a cross. This was no doubt the baptistery of a church, which, I was assured, had been built on this spot by St. Helena, though I could not discover any other vestiges of it.

On leaving Tekoa to proceed to the Labyrinth, our Bethlehemnites took it into their heads to discharge their pieces, the report of which, repeated by the echoes of the hills, seemed to amuse them much. Having no more than ten armed men in my escort, I was far from approving this pastime, which would naturally apprize the Arabs of the presence of strangers in the parts bordering

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upon the Dead Sea. I reprimanded them, and the more severely, because, in case of attack, I had some reason not to rely too strongly on their courage. Besides, who could warrant that these shots were not a preconcerted signal ? An Arab remains for ever an Arab.

An hour had not elapsed, when our dragoman hurried up to us, pale and in great alarm. “ There are the Bedouins !” he exclaimed; “there they are !” Presently, , we actually perceived a score of dark figures following us, but yet without coming too near. I collected my people, ordered them to keep together, and, above all, to advance slowly, to show that we were not afraid; and, thus pursuing our route among frightful precipices, we reached the caverns. The Bedouins had retired.

The entrance to these caverns is very dangerous and almost inaccessible : you cannot approach them but over rocks, which appear as if suspended over abysses, and by-paths so narrow that a single false step might cost you your life.

No recollection, sacred or profane, is attached to these frightful caverns; and, besides, I have seen so many in the course of my travels, that I did not much care to expose myself to the risk of exploring the interior of these. However, either from shame, or a hankering of curiosity, I suffered myself to be persuaded : and there was I, acting the youngster, climbing, clambering, leaping, till at length I found myself in the first

cavern.

Notwithstanding the prodigious height of the vaults, the heat here was suffocating; the farther we advanced, the thicker the air became; moreover, our torches were nearly burned out, and we were threatened with pro

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