“It was … the Moslem Sabbath,” wrote Hunt of the day after the news reached Ottoman Palestine. “I was working quietly in my courtyard, enjoying the more than casual stillness, when my wife came in with a man who mysteriously insisted upon seeing me.” It turned out that the visitor was a Christian from Bethlehem and that his sister was one of the Hunt household’s servants. Clearly agitated, the man explained that all the Christians in Jerusalem feared for their safety, and “had all taken refuge in the convents or barricaded themselves in the houses in fear of an immediate massacre; that the convents were already unapproachable; that the city gates were shut; and that the Russian buildings – my last hope [of sanctuary] – were thronged and fastened up, besides being only attainable by traversing a road which, at any moment, might be beset by the [Moslem] fanatics”. For his sister’s sake, and for the Hunts’, the man had hastened “to advise us to do all we could for our defence”.
For various unstated reasons, fleeing to Jaffa was not an option. “Our only course was to barricade the house, which I did by bringing in all the winter firewood, and piling it up against the door, and by blocking up the windows with beds, &c. In the meantime, we had sent out a native servant for intelligence from a family at a long distance. The reply was not encouraging. When I had done all to barricade the house, there were three things to do – to go down to the town to ascertain the actual state of things, to get some money to keep in my pocket for any emergency, and, if possible, to get to my house in town to obtain a large supply of powder there, and the materials for making cartridges, and with these a good supply of native costumes for disguise if necessary.”
“I left my house [his rural one] in charge of the tutor, my model for the morning, my wife and little boy and nurse, and the Bethlehem woman, taking with me the native servant, with saddle-bags over his shoulders. We went along with eyes searching for every fact. It was evident that the authorities were doing all they could to establish quiet and confidence. The [Turkish] soldiers, in large bodies, were marching about with a show of good discipline … Inside the town, I was met by people who told me that, for the time, danger had passed. Some were inclined to pooh-pooh the original panic, saying that it had arisen from a misunderstanding of the motive of the general in command in serving out a double and treble supply of cartridges. Others, however, brought proofs that threats of a very distinct kind had been uttered by Moslems against certain Christians, telling them they should soon see what would become of them and their co-religionists … The [European] consuls had been to the Pasha, [who] had apparently satisfied them that the strictest vigilance would be exercised.
The scene in the morning had been a most extraordinary one; the whole population, not the
Christians only, but the Jews and even the Mahomedans, were throwing down the things they had in hand – butchers their meat, bakers their bread, grocers their supplies, and even milkmen and women their jars, and running for their lives. The matter was a mystery at best; but there was a lull in the excitement and I had to profit by it. I got my silver from the banker, and then went to my [Jerusalem] house. I met many Moslem acquaintances, who ordinarily are quite garrulous in their salutations: but this morning they either turned their heads aside altogether, or were most shy in their manner of greeting. At the cafés and other loitering places, the Effendi [the educated elite and officials], dressed in their best green robes and turbans, eyed me apparently with mingled vexation and astonishment … At the door of my house there is a café. All the habitués turned away.’
When Hunt emerged from the empty house – “I had half expected to find a Moslem servant of mine there, for I had given him leave from my [other] residence to go to the mosque to say his prayers, and he had not returned” – having filled two sacks with belongings, he found himself “watched again as if with prejudice, but no one interfered.”
Since that day, the Hunt household, despite “so many assurances had been given of our perfect safety, “ had remained on their guard, especially at night, “for after all the declarations that there was no ground for alarm, we have it proved that on the Friday there was a large army of fellaheen, numbered variously at 1,000 and 5,000, who marched up to the gates of the city which was the occasion of the shutting of the gates – and that these fellaheen before disbanding came to some resolutions (the nature of which is unknown) for future action. For the few following days it seemed possible that we might see the people of Hebron, who are great fanatics, march here. We are told to watch the progress of affairs next Friday, but if that day passes off quietly we shall return very much to only our ordinary degree of caution. However, I shall certainly not leave my gunpowder and cartridges so far away. Those who are most brave now were during the panic most in alarm.”
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