'Our horses are in need of water,' growled Rashid, uninterested in the sight. 'It is a sin for those low people to refuse it to us.'
'Let us first wait and see how this newcomer fares, what method he adopts,' replied Suleyman, reclining once more at his ease.
The Frank and his attendants reached the outskirts of the village, and headed naturally for the spring. The fellahin, already put upon their guard by Rashid's venture, opposed them in a solid mass. The Frank expostulated. We could hear his voice of high command.
'Aha, he knows some Arabic. He is a missionary, not a traveller,' said Suleyman, who now sat up and showed keen interest. 'I might have known it, for the touring season is long past.'
He rose with dignified deliberation and remounted. We followed him as he rode slowly down towards the scene of strife. When we arrived, the Frank, after laying about him vainly with his riding-whip, had drawn out a revolver. He was being stoned. His muleteers had fled to a safe distance. In another minute, as it seemed, he would have shot some person, when nothing under Allah could have saved his life.
Suleyman cried out in English: 'Don't you be a fool, sir! Don't you fire!'
The Frank looked round in our direction, with an angry face; but Suleyman bestowed no further thought on him. He rode up to the nearest group of fellahin, crying aloud:
'O true believers! O asserters of the Unity! Bless the Prophet, and inform me straightway what has happened!'
Having captured their attention by this solemn adjuration, he inquired:
'Who is the chief among you? Let him speak, him only!'
Although the crowd had seemed till then to be without a leader, an old white-bearded man was thrust before him, with the cry:
'Behold our Sheykh, O lord of judgment. Question him!'
Rashid and I heard nothing of the conversation which ensued, except the tone of the two voices, which appeared quite friendly, and some mighty bursts of laughter from the crowd. No more stones were thrown, although some persons still kept guard over the spring.
At length Suleyman returned to us, exclaiming:
'All is well. They grant us leave to take what water we require. The spring has been a trouble to these people through the ages because the wandering tribes with all their herds come here in time of drought and drink it dry. But now they are our friends, and make us welcome.'
He called out to the Frank, who all this while had sat his horse with an indignant air, more angry, as it seemed, to be forgotten than to be assailed:
'It is all right. You take the water and you pay them five piastres.'
'It is extortion!' cried the Frank. 'What right have they to charge me money for the water of this natural spring, which is the gift of God? I will not pay.'
'No matter. I pay for you,' shrugged Suleyman.
I tried to make the missionary—for such he proved to be upon acquaintance—understand that the conditions in that desert country made the spring a valued property, and gave a price to every pitcherful of water.
'What! Are you English?' was his only answer, as he scanned my semi-native garb with pity and disgust. 'And who, pray, is that person with you who was rude to me?'
'His name is Suleyman. He is a friend of mine.'
'A friend, I hardly think,' replied the Frank, fastidiously. He was a big man, with a dark complexion and light eyes. 'I am going to camp here to-night. I have a tent. Perhaps you will be good enough to come and sup with me. Then we can talk.'
'With pleasure,' I made answer, taken by surprise.
'Where is your camp?' he asked.
'We haven't got one. We put up in the guest-room if there is one, or under the stars.'
'Well, there's no accounting for tastes,' he murmured, with a sneer.
Rashid, through all this conversation, had been standing by, waiting to tell me that Suleyman had gone before into the village to the headman's house, where it had been arranged that we should pass the night. Thither we went, when I had finished speaking to the missionary; and there we found Suleyman enthroned among the village elders in a long, low room. He stood up on my entrance, as did all the others, and explained:
'We have a room near by where we can throw our saddle-bags, but it is verminous, and so we will not sleep inside it, but outside—on the roof. For supper we are the invited guests of the good sheykh, and I can tell you he is getting ready a fine feast.'
With deep regret and some degree of shame I told him of my promise to take supper with the missionary. He looked reproach at me, and told the villagers what I had said. They all cried out in disappointment. Suleyman suggested that I should revoke the promise instantly, but that I would not do, to his annoyance; and after that, till it was time for me to go, he and Rashid were sulky and withdrew their eyes from me. I knew that they were jealous of the Frank, whom they regarded as an enemy, and feared lest he should turn my mind against them.
THE PARTING OF THE WAYS
It was dusk when I set out for the missionary's tent, and starlit night before I reached it—so fleeting is the summer twilight in that land.
Rashid went with me, as in duty bound, and insisted on remaining with the servants of the missionary by the cook's fire, although I told him to go back repeatedly, knowing how his mouth must water for the headman's feast. The dudgeon which he felt at my desertion made him determined not to let me out of sight, and called for the martyrdom of someone, even let that someone be himself.
The missionary called: 'Come in!' while I was still a good way off the tent. Entering, I found him stretched on a deck-chair, with hands behind his head. He did not rise upon my entrance, but just smiled and pointed to another chair beyond a little folding table laid for supper.
He spoke of the day's heat and the fatigues of travel and the flies; and asked me how I could endure to sleep in native hovels full of fleas and worse.
I told him that, by Suleyman's arrangement, we were to sleep upon the roof for safety. He sniffed.
I then related a discussion I had overheard between Rashid and Suleyman as to the best way of defeating those domestic pests, thinking to make him laugh. Rashid had spoken of the virtues of a certain shrub; but Suleyman declared the best specific was a new-born baby. This, if laid within a room for a short while, attracted every insect. The babe should then be carried out and dusted. The missionary did not even smile.
'The brutes!' he murmured. 'How can you, an Englishman, and apparently a man of education, bear their intimacy?'
They had their good points, I asserted—though, I fear, but lamely; for the robustness of his attitude impressed me, he being a man, presumably, of wide experience, and, what is more, a clergyman—the kind of man I had been taught to treat with some respect.
He said no more till we had finished supper, which consisted of sardines and corned beef and sliced pineapple, tomatoes and half-liquid butter out of tins, and some very stale European bread which he had brought with him. Confronted with such mummy food, I thought with longing of the good, fresh meal which I had left behind me at the headman's house. He may have guessed my thoughts, for he observed: 'I never touch their food. It is insanitary'—which I knew to be exactly what they said of his.
The man who waited on us seemed to move in fear, and was addressed by his employer very curtly.
After the supper there was tea, which, I confess, was welcome, and then the missionary put me through a kind of catechism. Finding out who I was, and that we had some friends in common, he frowned deeply. He had heard of my existence in the land, it seemed.
'What are you doing here at all?' he asked severely. 'At your age you should be at college or in training for some useful work.'
'I'm learning things,' I told him rather feebly.
His point of view, the point of view of all my countrymen, imposed itself on me as I sat there before him, deeply conscious of my youth and inexperience.
'What things?' he asked. And then his tongue was loosed. He gave me his opinion of the people of the country, and particularly of my two companions. He had summed them up at sight. They were two cunning rogues, whose only object was to fleece me. He told me stories about Englishmen who had been ruined in that very way through making friends with natives whom they thought devoted to them. One story ended in a horrid murder. He wanted me to have no more to do with them, and when he saw I was attached to them, begged me earnestly to treat them always as inferiors, to 'keep them in their place'; and this I promised, coward-like, to do, although I knew that, in the way he meant, it was not in me.
It seemed that he himself was travelling in these wild places in search of an old Greek inscription, mention of which he had discovered in some book. He half-persuaded me to bear him company.
'You are doing no good here, alone with such companions,' he said, as I at last departed. 'Think over my advice to you. Go back to England. Come with me for the next few days, and share my tents. Then come and stay with me in Jerusalem, and we can talk things over.' There was no doubt of the kindliness of his intention.
I thanked him, and strolled back toward the village in the starlight, Rashid, who, at my first appearance, had detached himself from a small group which sat around the missionary's kitchen fire, stalking on before me with a lantern.
It seemed a wonder that the village dogs, which had made so great a noise on our arrival in the place so short a while before, now took no notice, seeming to recognise our steps as those of lawful inmates.
At the headman's house Suleyman still sat up talking with the village elders. He expressed a hope that I had much enjoyed myself, but with a hint of grievance which I noticed as a thing expected. Looking round upon those eager, friendly faces, I compared them with the cold face of the missionary, who suddenly appeared to me as a great bird of prey. I hated him instinctively, for he was like a schoolmaster; and yet his words had weight, for I was young to judge, and schoolmasters, though hateful, have a knack of being in the right.
At last we three went up on to the roof to sleep. We had lain down and said 'good night' to one another, when Suleyman remarked, as if soliloquising:
'Things will never be the same.'
'What do you mean?' I questioned crossly.
'That missionary has spoilt everything. He told you not to trust us, not to be so friendly with persons who are natives of this land, and therefore born inferior.'
I made no answer, and Suleyman went on:
'A man who journeys in the desert finds a guide among the desert people, and he who journeys on the sea trusts seamen. What allegations did he make? I pray you tell us!'
'He told me stories of his own experience.'
'His experience is not, never will be, yours. He is the enemy. A tiger, if one asked him to describe mankind, would doubtless say that they are masters of the guile which brings destruction, deserving only to be clawed to death. Question the pigeons of some mosque, upon the other hand, and they will swear by Allah men are lords of all benevolence.'
Rashid broke in: 'His boys, with whom I talked, inform me that he is devoid of all humanity. He never thanks them for their work, however perfect, nor has a word of blessing ever passed his lips. He frowns continually. How can he be the same as one like thee who laughs and talks?'
We had all three sat up, unconsciously. And we continued sitting up, debating miserably under the great stars, hearing the jackals' voices answer one another from hill to hill both near and far, all through that night, drawing ever closer one to another as we approached an understanding.
'An Englishman such as that missionary,' said Suleyman, 'treats good and bad alike as enemies if they are not of his nation. He gives bare justice; which, in human life, is cruelty. He keeps a strict account with every man. We, when we love a man, keep no account. We never think of what is due to us or our position. And when we hate—may God forgive us!—it is just the same—save with the very best and coolest heads among us.'
'But you are cunning, and have not our code of honour,' I objected, with satirical intention, though the statement sounded brutal.
'Your Honour says so!' cried Rashid, half weeping. 'No doubt you are referring to that theft in the hotel, of which you thought so little at the time that you would take no action. That was the doing of a Greek, as was established. Say, can you of your own experience of children of the Arabs say that one of us has ever robbed you of a small para, or wronged you seriously?'
'I cannot,' was my answer, after brief reflection. 'But the experience of other, older men must weigh with me.'
'Let other men judge people as they find them, and do thou likewise,' said Suleyman.
'He urged me to give up this aimless wandering and go with him in search of an old Greek inscription, not far off. Within four days he hopes to see El Cuds again; and thence he urged me to return to England.'
At that my two companions became silent and exceeding still, as if some paralysing fear hung over them. It was the hour immediately before the dawn, and life seemed hopeless. The missionary's voice seemed then to me the call of duty, yet every instinct in my blood was fierce against it.
'Your Honour will do what he pleases,' said my servant mournfully.
'The Lord preserve thee ever!' sighed Suleyman. 'Thou art the leader of the party. Give command.'
A streak of light grew on the far horizon, enabling us to see the outlines of the rugged landscape. A half-awakened wild-bird cried among the rocks below us. And suddenly my mind grew clear. I cared no longer for the missionary's warning. I was content to face the dangers which those warnings threatened; to be contaminated, even ruined as an Englishman. The mischief, as I thought it, was already done. I knew that I could never truly think as did that missionary, nor hold myself superior to Eastern folk again. If that was to be reprobate, then I was finished.
'Saddle the horses. We will start at once,' I told Rashid. 'Before the missionary is afoot—towards the East.'
For a moment he sat motionless, unable to believe his ears. Then suddenly he swooped and kissed my hand, exclaiming: 'Praise be to Allah!'
'Praise be to Allah!' echoed Suleyman, with vast relief. 'The tiger in thee has not triumphed. We shall still know joy.'
'I resign myself to be the pigeon of the mosque,' I answered, laughing happily.
Five minutes later we were riding towards the dawn, beginning to grow red behind the heights of Moab.
THE KNIGHT ERRANT
We had left Damascus after noon the day before, and had spent the night at a great fortress-khan—the first of many on the pilgrims' road. We had been on our way an hour before Rashid discovered that he had left a pair of saddle-bags behind him at the khan; and as those saddle-bags contained belongings of Suleyman, the latter went back with him to retrieve them. I rode on slowly, looking for a patch of shade. Except the khan, a square black object in the distance, there was nothing in my range of vision to project a shadow larger than a good-sized thistle. Between a faint blue wave of mountains on the one hand and a more imposing but far distant range upon the other, the vast plain rolled to the horizon in smooth waves.
I was ascending such an undulation at my horse's leisure when a cavalier appeared upon its summit—a figure straight out of the pages of some book of chivalry, with coloured mantle streaming to the breeze, and lance held upright in the stirrup-socket. This knight was riding at his ease till he caught sight of me, when, with a shout, he laid his lance in rest, lowered his crest and charged. I was exceedingly alarmed, having no skill in tournament, and yet I could not bring myself to turn and flee. I rode on as before, though with a beating heart, my purpose, if I had one, being, when the moment came, to lean aside, and try to catch his spear, trusting in Allah that my horse would stand the shock. But the prospect of success was small, because I could see nothing clearly, till suddenly the thunder of the hoof-beats ceased, and I beheld the knight within ten yards of me, grinning and saluting me with lance erect, his horse flung back upon its haunches.
'I frightened thee, O Faranji?' he asserted mockingly.
I replied that it would take more than such a wretched mountebank as he could do to frighten me, and showed him my revolver, which, until the fear was over, had escaped my memory. It pleased him, and he asked for it immediately. I put it back.
'A pretty weapon,' he agreed, 'but still I frightened thee.'
I shrugged and sneered, disdaining further argument, and thought to pass him; but he turned his horse and rode beside me, asking who I was and where I came from, and what might be my earthly object in riding thus towards the desert all alone. I answered all his questions very coldly, which did not disconcert him in the least. Hearing that I had attendants, one of whom had skill in warfare, he said that he would wait with me till they came up. I tried to frighten him with tales of all the men Rashid had slain in single combat: he was all the more determined to remain with me, saying that he would gain much honour from destroying such a man.
'But I do suspect that thou are lying, O most noble Faranji, and that this boasted champion is some wretched townsman whose only courage is behind a wall,' he chuckled.
At that I was indignant, and I lied the more.
Thus talking, we came near a piece of ruined wall, which cast sufficient shadow for a man to rest in. The knight dismounted and tied up his horse. I was for riding on, but he made such an outcry that, wishing to avoid a quarrel, I alighted also and tied up my horse. We lay down near together in the strip of shade. He passed me a rough leathern water-bottle, and I took a draught of warmish fluid, tasting like the smell of goats. He took a longer draught, and then exclaimed: 'There are thy friends.'
Far off upon the plain two specks were moving. I could not have told man from man at such a distance, but the knight was able to distinguish and describe them accurately.
'The younger man who sits erect upon his horse—he is no doubt the warrior of whom thou speakest. The other, plump and lolling, has the air of greatness—a Pasha, maybe, or a man of law.'
I told him that Suleyman was a man of learning, and then let him talk while I took stock of his appearance. The figure out of books of chivalry was shabby on a close inspection. The coloured surcoat was both weather-stained and torn, the coat of mail beneath so ancient that many of the links had disappeared completely; the holes where they had been were patched with hide, which also was beginning to give way in places. His age was about three-and-twenty; he had bright brown eyes, a black moustache and beard, and a malicious air. He looked a perfect ragamuffin, yet he spoke with condescension, talking much about his pedigree, which contained a host of names which I had never heard before—a fact which, when he realised it, filled him first with horror, then with pity of my ignorance. He expatiated also on his horse's pedigree, which was as lengthy as his own.
When my friends came up, I quite expected them to rid me of the tiresome knight. But they did nothing of the sort. They took the man and his pretensions seriously, exchanging with him compliments in striking contrast with the haughty tone I had till then adopted. Rashid refused his challenge with politeness, and, much to my dismay, Suleyman, the older and more thoughtful man, accepted it upon condition that the combat should stand over till some more convenient time; and when the knight proclaimed his sovereign will to travel with us, they seemed pleased.
'He will be useful to us,' said Rashid, when I complained to him of this deception, 'for his tribe controls a great part of this country. But it will be best for me to carry our revolver while he rides with us. Then I and not your Honour can deny him, which is more becoming.'
The knight had asked for my revolver thrice already.
That evening, near a lonely village of the plain, the battle with Suleyman was fought with equal honours, each rider hitting his man squarely with the long jerideh—the stripped palm-branch—which is substituted for the spear in friendly combat. The heroes faced each other at a regulated distance. Then one—it was Suleyman—clapped spurs into his horse's flanks and fled, keeping within a certain space which might be called the lists; the other flying after him, with fearful yells, intent to fling the missile so that it should strike the victim in a certain manner. This lasted till the throw was made, and then the order was reversed, and the pursuer in his turn became the hunted.
The knight applauded his opponent's skill reluctantly, and with regret that he himself had not been in his usual form.
He journeyed with us after that for many days. It seemed that he was out in search of exploits, so did not care a jot which way he rode. In former days, he told me, there used to be a tournament in every town each Friday, where any stranger knight might show his prowess, winning honour and renown. But in these degenerate times it was necessary for the would-be champion to cry his challenge in some public place, or else arrange the fight beforehand meanly in some tavern. I should have been delighted with him on the whole, if he had not been quarrelsome and had not expected us, as his companions, to extricate him from the strife in which his arrogance involved him. We dreaded the arrival at a town or village. If he had possessed the prowess of his courage, which was absolutely reckless, he would have been a more endurable, if dread, companion. But in almost every quarrel which he brought upon himself he got the worst of it, and was severely beaten, and then would talk to us about the honour of the Arabs till we fell asleep.
One night in the small town of Mazarib we rescued him from two Circassian bravoes whom he had insulted wantonly. They had nearly stopped his mouth for ever when we intervened. I cannot say he was ungrateful upon that occasion. On the contrary, he swore that he would not forsake us until death—a vow which filled us with dismay, for even Suleyman by that time saw that he was useless; and Rashid, our treasurer, resented his contempt of money. He had a way, too, of demanding anything of ours which took his fancy, and, if not forcibly prevented, taking it, peculiarly obnoxious to Rashid, who idolised my few belongings. We were his friends, his manner told us, and he, the bravest of the brave, the noblest of the noble Arabs, was prepared to give his life for us at any time. Any trifles therefore which we might bestow on him were really nothing as compared with what he gave us every hour of every day.
It grew unbearable. The people in the khan at Mazarib were laughing at us because that wretched Bedawi, a chance adherent, ruled our party. We plotted desperately to get rid of him.
At length Suleyman devised a scheme. It was that we should change the whole direction of our journey, turning aside into the mountain of the Druzes. The Druzes were at war with many of the Bedu—probably with this man's tribe; at any rate, a Bedawi, unless disguised, would run grave risk among them while the war was on.
Accordingly, when we at length set out from Mazarib, Suleyman, with many compliments, informed the knight of a dilemma which distressed us greatly. I had been summoned to the bedside of a friend of mine, a great Druze sheykh, now lying very ill, whose one wish was to gaze on me before he died. Rashid chimed in to say how tenderly that Druze chief loved me, and how depressed I was by sorrow for his grievous illness. In short, it was imperative that we should go at once to the Druze mountain. What were our feelings when we suddenly bethought us that there was danger in that region for an Arab knight! Must we then part from our beloved, from our souls' companion? Suleyman declared that we had wept like babes at such a prospect. No, that must never be; our grief would kill us. We had been obliged to think of some contrivance by which our hearts' delight might bear us company without much risk, and with the help of Allah we had hit upon a splendid plan, yet simple: That he should lay aside his lance and armour, dress as a Christian, and become our cook.
'Why need he seem a Christian?' asked Rashid.
'Because all cooks who go with English travellers are Christians,' was the earnest answer, 'and because no man would ever think to find a Bedawi beneath a Christian's cloak.'
'A person of my master's standing ought to have a cook,' murmured Rashid, as one who thought aloud.
Never have I seen such horror in the face of man as then convulsed the features of the desert knight. He, a cook! He, the descendant of I know not whom, to wear the semblance of a heathen and degraded townsman! Rather than that he would encounter twenty spear-points. If we were going to the mountain of the Druzes, we might go alone!
We all were eager to express regret. He listened with a sneer, and answered nothing. After a while he beckoned me to speak apart with him, and, when we were beyond the hearing of the others, said:
'I leave thee now, O Faranji, and journey towards Nejd to seek adventures. Thou lovest me I am aware, and so I grieve to part from thee; but thy adherents are low people and devoured by envy. If ever we should meet again I will destroy them. If thou shouldst travel south and eastward through the Belka, remember me, I beg, and seek our tents. There thou shalt find a welcome far more hospitable than the Druze will give thee. I shall never cease to pray for thee. My grief will be extreme until we meet again. I pray thee give me that revolver as a souvenir.'
A European hat in those days was a rarity except in the large towns, and it attracted notice. That is the reason why I generally discarded it, with other too conspicuously Western adjuncts. Where the inhabitants were not well-mannered, the hat was apt to be saluted with a shower of stones.
One afternoon I happened to be riding by myself along a so-called road in the bare mountain country round Jerusalem, wearing a hat, when I came on a pedestrian resting in the shadow of a rock by the wayside. He was a native Christian—that much could be detected at a glance; but of what peculiar brand I could not guess from his costume, which consisted of a fez; a clerical black coat and waistcoat, quite of English cut, but very much the worse for wear; a yellow flannel shirt, and a red cord with tassels worn by way of necktie; baggy Turkish pantaloons; white stockings, and elastic-sided boots. Beside him, a long staff leaned up against the rock. He sprang upon his feet at my approach, and, with an amiable smile and bow, exclaimed:
'Good afternoon. I think you are an English gentleman?'
I pleaded guilty to the charge, and he asked leave to walk beside me until past a certain village, not far distant, of which the people, he assured me, were extremely wicked and averse to Christians. I readily consented, and he took his staff and walked beside me, pouring out his soul in fulsome flattery.
The village which he dreaded to approach alone was the abode of Muslims, devilish people who hate the righteous Christians and persecute them when they get the chance. He said that he looked forward to the day when the English would take over the whole country and put those evil-doers in their proper place, below the Christians. It would be a mercy and a blessing to the human race, he gave as his mature opinion, if the English were to conquer the whole world. They were so good and upright and so truly pious. He did not think that any wrong was ever done in England. And then:
'You are a Brutestant?' he asked.
I answered that I was a member of the Church of England.
'Ah, thank God!' he cried. 'I also am a Brutestant—a Babtist.' He seemed to think that my avowal made us brothers.
It seemed, from the account he gave me of himself, that he was an evangelist, working to spread the truth among his wicked country-people; for the Christians of the Greek and Latin Churches were both wicked and benighted, he informed me, and would persecute him, like the Muslims, if they got the chance. It was hard work, he told me, turning up his eyes to heaven. He grieved to say it, but there seemed no other way to purge the land of all those wicked people save destruction. He wondered that the Lord had not destroyed them long ago. Yet when I said that I did not agree with him, but thought that they were decent folk, though rather backward, he came round to my opinion in a trice, exclaiming:
'Ah, how true you speak! It is that they are backward. They will neffer be no better till they get the Gosbel light, the liffin water.'
I told him he was talking nonsense; that, for my part, I thought the missionaries did more harm than good, and once again he changed his standpoint, though less boldly, saying:
'It is so delightful to talk thus freely to a noble English gentleman. God knows that I could listen for a day without fatigue, you talk so sweet. And what you say is all so new to me.'
And he proceeded to relate with what severity the English missionaries treated native converts like himself, mentioning many wicked things which they had done in his remembrance. I could not but admire his versatility and total lack of shame in his desire to please. Thus talking, we approached the village of his fears.
'If I was by myself I should be much afraid,' he fawned; 'but not with you. These wicked beoble do not dare to hurt an English gentleman, who wears the hat and is brotected by the Bowers of Eurobe.'
We had not really got into the place before some boys at play among the rocks outside the houses, spying my hat, threw stones in our direction. One hit my horse. I raised my whip and rode at them. They fled with screams of terror. Glancing back, I could perceive no sign of my devout companion. But when I returned at leisure, having driven the young rogues to cover, I found him vigorously beating a small boy who had fallen in the panic flight and, finding himself left behind, had been too frightened to get up again.
Never have I seen a face of such triumphant malice as then appeared on that demure evangelist. He beat the child as if he meant to kill it, muttering execrations all the while and looking round him furtively for fear lest other Muslims should appear in sight, in which case, I believe, he would at once have turned from blows to fondling.
'The wicked boy!' he cried, as I came up, 'to throw stones at a noble English gentleman. He well deserfs to be deliffered ofer to the Bowers of Eurobe.'
I bade him leave the child alone, or it would be the worse for him. Aggrieved, and, in appearance, shocked at my unsympathetic tone, he left his prey, and I endeavoured to speak comfort to the victim; who, however, took no notice of my words, but ran hard for the village, howling lustily.
'The wicked boy! The wicked children!' the evangelist kept moaning, in hesitating and half-contrite tones. 'It is a bity that you let him go. He will perhabs make trouble for us in the fillage. But you are so brafe. I think the English are the brafest kind of beeble.'
I also thought it possible there might be trouble; but I decided to go on, not wishing to show fear before that craven. He cried aloud in awe and wonder when I told him that little boys threw stones in Christian England.
'But only upon unbelievers!' he exclaimed imploringly, as one who would preserve his last illusion.
I replied to the effect that members of the Church of England would, no doubt, have stoned a Baptist or a Roman Catholic with pleasure, if such heretics with us had dressed in a peculiar way; but that, in my opinion, it was only natural instinct in a boy to throw a stone at any living thing which seemed unusual.
The shock this information gave him—or his private terrors—kept him silent through the village; where the people, men and women, watched us pass with what appeared to be unfriendly faces. I was ill at ease, expecting some attack at every step.
As luck would have it, at the far end of the place, when I could see the open country, and was giving thanks for our escape, a great big stone was thrown by a small boy quite close to me. It struck me on the arm, and hurt enough to make me really angry.
'For God's sake, sir!' implored my terrified companion, 'Ride on! Do nothing! There are men obserfing.'
I heard him taking to his heels. But I had caught the culprit, and was beating him. His yells went forth with terrible insistence:
'O my father, O my mother, help. Ya Muslimin!'
And, in a trice, I was surrounded by a group of surly-looking fellahin, one of whom told me curtly to release the boy. I did so instantly, prepared for trouble. But no sooner had I left off beating than that man began. The boy's appeals for help went forth anew; but this time he addressed them to his mother only, for his father held him.
I begged the man to stop, and in the end he did so.
All those ferocious-looking fellahin returned my smile at this conclusion, and wished me a good evening as I rode away.
I never saw that bright evangelist again. No doubt he ran till he had reached some place inhabited by altogether righteous Christian people. But the way he started running was a clear inducement to pursuit to any son of Adam not evangelised.
We were staying with an English friend of mine—a parson, though the least parsonical of men—who had a pleasant little house in a Druze village of Mount Lebanon, and nothing to do but watch, and do his utmost to restrain, the antics of a very wealthy and eccentric lady missionary. He had gone away for a few weeks, leaving us in possession, when another sort of clergyman arrived—a little man with long white beard, sharp nose, and pale, seraphic eyes. He was, or fancied that he was, on duty, inspecting missionary establishments in those mountains. The master of the house had once invited him to stay there if he passed that way. He seemed surprised to find us in possession, and treated us as interlopers, though I was in fact his host, regarding our small dwelling as a clergy house. His gaze expressed an innocent surprise when I sat down to supper with him and performed the honours on the night of his arrival. He gave his orders boldly to my servant, and his demeanour plainly asked what business I had there, though he would never listen to my explanation.
I took the whole adventure philosophically, but rage and indignation took possession of Rashid. And his indignation was increased by the popularity of our insulter with the girls and teachers of the mission-school hard by. Our guest was innocence itself, if silly and conceited. But Rashid watched all his movements, and could tell me that the old 'hypocrite,' as he invariably called him, went to the school each day and kissed the pupils, taking the pretty ones upon his knee, and making foolish jokes, talking and giggling like an imbecile, bestowing sweetmeats. With them—for the most sinful motives, as Rashid averred, and, I suppose, believed—he was all sugar; but when he came back to the house he was as grumpy as could be. Rashid would have destroyed him at a nod from me one evening when he said:
'I think I must have left my glasses over at the school. Will you be good enough to go and ask?'
'Now your Honour knows how we feel when we meet a man like that; and there are many such among the Franks,' my servant whispered in my ear as I went out obediently. 'By Allah, it is not to be endured!'
The parson occupied the only bedroom; and I slept out upon the balcony on his account. Yet he complained of certain of my garments hanging in his room, and flung them out. It was after that revolting episode, when I was really angry for a moment, that Rashid came to me and said:
'You hate this hypocrite; is it not so?'
'By Allah,' I replied, 'I hate him.'
He seemed relieved by the decision of my tone, and then informed me:
'I know a person who would kill him for the sake of thirty English pounds.'
It became, of course, incumbent on me to explain that, with us English, hatred is not absolute as with the children of the Arabs—mine had already reached the laughing stage. He was evidently disappointed, and answered with a weary sigh:
'May Allah rid us of this foul oppression!'
It was a bitter pill for him, whose whole endeavour was for my aggrandisement, to see me treated like a menial by our guest; who, one fine evening, had me summoned to his presence—I had been sitting with some village elders in the olive grove behind the house—and made to me a strange proposal, which Rashid declared by Allah proved his perfect infamy. His manner was for once quite amiable. Leaning back in a deck-chair, his two hands with palms resting on his waistcoat, the fingers raised communicating at the tips, he said, with clerical complacency:
'It is my purpose to make a little tour to visit missionary ladies at three several places in these mountains, and then to go on to Jezzin to see the waterfall. As you appear to know the country and the people intimately, and can speak the language, it would be well if you came too. The man Rashid could wait upon us all.'
Rashid, I knew, was listening at the door.
'Us all? How many of you are there, then?'
He hemmed a moment ere replying:
'I—er—think of taking the Miss Karams with me'—Miss Sara Karam, a young lady of Syrian birth but English education, was head teacher at the girls' school, and her younger sister, Miss Habibah Karam, was her constant visitor—'I thought you might take charge of the younger of the two. The trip will give them both great pleasure, I am sure.'
And they were going to Jezzin, where there was no hotel, and we should have to herd together in the village guest-room! What would my Arab friends, censorious in all such matters, think of that?
I told him plainly what I thought of the idea, and what the mountain-folk would think of it and all of us. I told him that I had no wish to ruin any woman's reputation, nor to be forced into unhappy marriage by a public scandal. He, as a visitor, would go away again; as an old man, and professionally holy, his good name could hardly suffer among English people. But the girls would have to live among the mountaineers, who, knowing of their escapade, would thenceforth scorn them. And as for me——
'But I proposed a mere excursion,' he interpolated. 'I fail to see why you should take this tone about it.'
'Well, I have told you what I think,' was my rejoinder. I then went out and told the story to Rashid, who heartily applauded my decision, which he had already gathered.
I did not see our simple friend again till after breakfast the next morning. Then he said to me, in something of a contrite tone:
'I have been thinking over what you said last night. I confess I had not thought about the native gossip. I have decided to give up the expedition to Jezzin. And it has occurred to me that, as you are not going, I could ride your horse. It would save the trouble and expense of hiring one, if you would kindly lend it.'
Taken fairly by surprise, I answered: 'Certainly,' and then went out and told Rashid what I had done. He wrung his hands and bitterly reproached me.
'But there is one good thing,' he said; 'Sheytan will kill him.'
In all the months that we had owned that horse Rashid had never once before alluded to him by the name which I had chosen. It was ill-omened, he had often warned me. But nothing could be too ill-omened for that hypocrite.
'I do not want to lend the horse at all,' I said. 'And I am pretty sure he could not ride him. But what was I to say? He took me by surprise.'
'In that case,' said Rashid, 'all is not said. Our darling shall enjoy his bath to-day.'
The washing of my horse—a coal-black Arab stallion, as playful as a kitten and as mad—was in the nature of a public festival for all the neighbours. Sheytan was led down to the spring, where all the population gathered, the bravest throwing water over him with kerosene tins, while he plunged and kicked and roused the mountain echoes with his naughty screaming. On this occasion, for a finish, Rashid let go his hold upon the head-rope, the people fled in all directions, and off went our Sheytan with tail erect, scrambling and careering up the terraces, as nimble as a goat, to take the air before returning to his stable.
Our reverend guest had watched the whole performance from our balcony, which, from a height of some three hundred feet, looked down upon the spring. I was up there behind him, but I said no word till he exclaimed in pious horror:
'What a vicious brute! Dangerous—ought to be shot!' when I inquired to what he was alluding.
'Whose is that savage beast?' he asked, with quite vindictive ire, pointing to Sheytan, who was disporting on the terrace just below.
'Oh, that's my horse,' I answered, interested. 'He's really quite a lamb.'
'Your horse! You don't mean that?'
He said no more just then, but went indoors, and then out to the mission school to see the ladies.
That evening he informed me: 'I shall not require your horse. I had no notion that it was so strong an animal when I suggested borrowing it. Old Casim at the school will hire one for me. I should be afraid lest such a valuable horse as yours might come to grief while in my charge.'
That was his way of putting it.
We watched the party start one early morning, the clergyman all smiles, the ladies in a flutter, all three mounted on hired chargers of the most dejected type, old Casim from the school attending them upon a jackass. Rashid addressed the last-named as he passed our house, applying a disgraceful epithet to his employment. The poor old creature wept.
'God knows,' he said, 'I would not choose such service. But what am I to do? A man must live. And I will save my lady's virtue if I can.'
'May Allah help thee!' said Rashid. 'Take courage; I have robbed his eyes.'
I had no notion of his meaning at the time when, sitting on the balcony, I overheard this dialogue; but later in the day Rashid revealed to me two pairs of eyeglasses belonging to our guest. Without these glasses, which were of especial power, the reverend man could not see anything in detail.
'And these two pairs were all he had,' exclaimed Rashid with triumph. 'He always used to put them on when looking amorously at the ladies. The loss of them, please God, will spoil his pleasure.'
THE HANGING DOG
Our English host possessed a spaniel bitch, which, being well-bred gave him much anxiety. The fear of mesalliances was ever in his mind, and furiously would he drive away the village pariahs when they came slinking round the house, with lolling tongues. One brown and white dog, larger than the others and with bristling hair, was a particular aversion, the thought of which deprived him of his sleep of nights; and not the thought alone, for that persistent suitor—more like a bear than any dog I ever saw—made a great noise around us in the darkness, whining, howling, and even scrabbling at the stable door. At length, in desperation, he resolved to kill him.
One night, when all the village was asleep, we lay out on the balcony with guns and waited. After a while the shadow of a dog slinking among the olive trees was seen. We fired. The village and the mountains echoed; fowls clucked, dogs barked; we even fancied that we heard the cries of men. We expected the whole commune to rise up against us; but after a short time of waiting all was still again.
Rashid, out in the shadows, whispered: 'He is nice and fat,' as if he thought that we were going to eat the dog.
'And is he dead?' I asked.
'Completely dead,' was the reply.
'Then get a cord and hang him to the balcony,' said my companion. 'His odour will perhaps attract the foxes.'
Another minute and the corpse was hanging from the balcony, while we lay out and waited, talking in low tones.
The bark of foxes came from vineyards near at hand, where there were unripe grapes. 'Our vines have tender grapes,' our host repeated; making me think of the fable of the fox and the grapes, which I related to Rashid in Arabic as best I could. He laughed as he exclaimed:
'Ripe grapes, thou sayest? Our foxes do not love ripe grapes and seldom steal them. I assure you, it was sour grapes that the villain wanted, and never did they seem so exquisitely sour as when he found out that he could not reach them. How his poor mouth watered!'
This was new light upon an ancient theme for us, his hearers.
After an hour or two of idle waiting, when no foxes came, we went to bed, forgetting all about the hanging dog.
The house was close beside a carriage road which leads down from the chief town of the mountains to the city, passing many villages. As it was summer, when the wealthy citizens sleep in the mountain villages for coolness' sake, from the dawn onward there was a downward stream of carriages along that road. When the daylight became strong enough for men to see distinctly, the sight of a great brown and white dog hanging from our balcony, and slowly turning, struck terror in the breasts of passers-by. Was it a sign of war, or some enchantment? Carriage after carriage stopped, while its inhabitants attempted to explore the mystery. But there was nobody about to answer questions. My host and I, Rashid as well, were fast asleep indoors. Inquirers looked around them on the ground, and then up at the shuttered house and then at the surrounding olive trees, in one of which they finally espied a nest of bedding on which reclined a blue-robed man asleep. It was the cook, Amin, who slept there for fresh air. The firing of the night before had not disturbed him.
By dint of throwing stones they woke him up, and he descended from his tree and stood before them, knuckling his eyes, which were still full of sleep.
They asked: 'What means this portent of the hanging dog?'
He stared incredulously at the object of their wonder, then exclaimed: 'Some enemy has done it, to insult me, while I slept. No matter, I will be avenged before the day is out.'
The tidings of the mystery ran through the village, and every able-bodied person came to view it, and express opinions.
'The dog is well known. He is called Barud; he was the finest in our village. He used to guard the dwelling of Sheykh Ali till he transferred his pleasure to the house of Sheykh Selim. It was a sin to kill him,' was the general verdict. And Amin confirmed it, saying: 'Aye, a filthy sin. But I will be avenged before the day is out.'
At last Rashid, awakened by the noise of talking, came out of the stable where he always slept, and with a laugh explained the whole occurrence. Some of the villagers were greatly shocked, and blamed us strongly. But Rashid stood up for us, declaring that the dog belonged in truth to no man, so that no man living had the right to blame his murderer; whereas the valuable sporting bitch of the Casis (our host) was all his own, and it was his duty therefore to defend her from improper lovers. He then cut down the body of the dog, which no one up till then had dared to do; and all the people gradually went away.
The coast was clear when we arose towards eight o'clock. Rashid, with laughter, told the tale to us at breakfast. We had been silly, we agreed, to leave the hanging dog; and there, as we supposed, the matter ended.
But hardly had we finished breakfast when a knock came at the open door, and we beheld a tall and dignified fellah depositing his staff against the doorpost and shuffling off his slippers at the call to enter.
He said the murdered dog was his, and dear to him as his own eyes, his wife and children. He was the finest dog in all the village, of so rare a breed that no one in the world had seen a dog just like him. He had been of use to guard the house, and for all kinds of work. The fellah declared his worth to be five Turkish pounds, which we must pay immediately unless we wished our crime to be reported to the Government.
With as nonchalant an air as I could muster, I offered him a beshlik—fourpence halfpenny. He thereupon became abusive and withdrew—in the end, hurriedly, because Rashid approached him in a hostile manner.
He had not been gone ten minutes when another peasant came, asserting that the dog was really his, and he had been on the point of regaining his possession by arbitration of the neighbours when we shot the animal. He thus considered himself doubly injured—in his expectations and his property. He came to ask us instantly to pay an English pound, or he would lay the case before the Turkish governor, with whom, he could assure us, he had favour.
I offered him the beshlik, and he also stalked off in a rage.
We were still discussing these encounters with Rashid when there arrived a vastly more imposing personage—no other than the headman of the village, the correct Sheykh Mustafa, who had heard, he said, of the infamous attempts which had been made to levy blackmail on us, and came now in all haste to tell us of the indignation and disgust which such dishonesty towards foreigners aroused in him. He could assure us that the dog was really his; and he was glad that we had shot the creature, since to shoot it gave us pleasure. His one desire was that we should enjoy ourselves. Since our delight was in the slaughter of domestic animals, he proposed to bring his mare—of the best blood of the desert—round for us to shoot.
We felt exceedingly ashamed, and muttered what we could by way of an apology. But the sheykh would not accept it from us. Gravely smiling, and stroking his grey beard, he said: 'Nay, do what pleases you. God knows, your pleasure is a law to us. Nay, speak the word, and almost (God forgive me!) I would bring my little son for you to shoot. So unlimited is my regard for men so much above the common rules of this our county, and who are protected in their every fancy by the Powers of Europe.'
His flattery dejected us for many days.
The fellahin who came to gossip in the winter evenings round our lamp and stove assured us there were tigers in the neighbouring mountain. We, of course, did not accept the statement literally, but our English friend possessed the killing instinct, and held that any feline creatures which could masquerade in popular report as tigers would afford him better sport than he had yet enjoyed in Syria. So when the settled weather came we went to look for them.
For my part I take pleasure in long expeditions with a gun, though nothing in the way of slaughter come of them. My lack of keenness at the proper moment has been the scorn and the despair of native guides and hunters. Once, in Egypt, at the inundation of the Nile, I had been rowed for miles by eager men, and had lain out an hour upon an islet among reeds, only to forget to fire when my adherents whispered as the duck flew over, because the sun was rising and the desert hills were blushing like the rose against a starry sky. I had chased a solitary partridge a whole day among the rocks of En-gedi without the slightest prospect of success; and in the Jordan valley I had endured great hardships in pursuit of wild boar without seeing one. It was the lurking in wild places at unusual hours which pleased me, not the matching of my strength and skill against the might of beasts. I have always been averse to every sort of competition. This I explain that all may know that, though I sallied forth with glee in search of savage creatures, it was not to kill them.
We set out from our village on a fine spring morning, attended by Rashid, my servant, and a famous hunter of the district named Muhammad, also two mules, which carried all things necessary for our camping out, and were in charge of my friend's cook, Amin by name. We rode into the mountains, making for the central range of barren heights, which had the hue and something of the contour of a lion's back. At length we reached a village at the foot of this commanding range, and asked for tigers. We were told that they were farther on. A man came with us to a point of vantage whence he was able to point out the very place—a crag in the far distance floating in a haze of heat. After riding for a day and a half we came right under it, and at a village near its base renewed inquiry. 'Oh,' we were told, 'the tigers are much farther on. You see that eminence?' Again a mountain afar off was indicated. At the next village we encamped, for night drew near. The people came out to inspect us, and we asked them for the tigers.
'Alas!' they cried. 'It is not here that you must seek them. By Allah, you are going in the wrong direction. Behold that distant peak!'
And they pointed to the place from which we had originally started.
Our English friend was much annoyed, Rashid and the shikari and the cook laughed heartily. No one, however, was for going back. Upon the following day our friend destroyed a jackal and two conies, which consoled him somewhat in the dearth of tigers, and we rode forward resolutely, asking our question at each village as we went along. Everywhere we were assured that there were really tigers in the mountain, and from some of the villages young sportsmen who owned guns insisted upon joining our excursion, which showed that they themselves believed such game existed. But their adherence, though it gave us hope, was tiresome, for they smoked our cigarettes and ate our food.
At last, towards sunset on the seventh evening of our expedition, we saw a wretched-looking village on the heights with no trees near it, and only meagre strips of cultivation on little terraces, like ledges, of the slope below.
Our friend had just been telling me that he was weary of this wild-goose chase, with all the rascals upon earth adhering to us. He did not now believe that there were tigers in the mountain, nor did I. And we had quite agreed to start for home upon the morrow, when the people of that miserable village galloped down to greet us with delighted shouts, as if they had been waiting for us all their lives.
'What is your will?' inquired the elders of the place, obsequiously.
'Tigers,' was our reply. 'Say, O old man, are there any tigers in your neighbourhood?'
The old man flung up both his hands to heaven, and his face became transfigured as in ecstasy. He shouted: 'Is it tigers you desire? This, then, is the place where you will dwell content. Tigers? I should think so! Tigers everywhere!'
The elders pointed confidently to the heights, and men and women—even children—told us: 'Aye, by Allah! Hundreds—thousands of them; not just one or two. As many as the most capacious man could possibly devour in forty years.'
'It looks as if we'd happened right at last,' our friend said, smiling for the first time in three days.
We pitched our tent upon the village threshing-floor, the only flat place, except roofs of houses, within sight. The village elders dined with us, and stayed till nearly midnight, telling us about the tigers and the way to catch them. Some of the stories they related were incredible, but not much more so than is usual in that kind of narrative. It seemed unnecessary for one old man to warn us gravely on no account to take them by their tails.
'For snakes it is the proper way,' he said sagaciously, 'since snakes can only double half their length. But tigers double their whole length, and they object to it. To every creature its own proper treatment.'
But there was no doubt of the sincerity of our instructors, nor of their eagerness to be of use to us in any way. Next morning, when we started out, the headman came with us some distance, on purpose to instruct the guide he had assigned to us, a stupid-looking youth, who seemed afraid. He told him: 'Try first over there among the boulders, and when you have exhausted that resort, go down to the ravine, and thence beat upwards to the mountain-top. Please God, your Honours will return with half a hundred of those tigers which devour our crops.'
Thus sped with hope, we set out in good spirits, expecting not a bag of fifty tigers, to speak truly, but the final settlement of a dispute which had long raged among us, as to what those famous tigers really were. Rashid would have it they were leopards, I said lynxes, and our English friend, in moments of depression, thought of polecats. But, though we scoured the mountain all that day, advancing with the utmost caution and in open order, as our guide enjoined, we saw no creature of the feline tribe. Lizards, basking motionless upon the rocks, slid off like lightning when aware of our approach. Two splendid eagles from an eyrie on the crags above hovered and wheeled, observing us, their shadows like two moving spots of ink upon the mountain-side. A drowsy owl was put up from a cave, and one of our adherents swore he heard a partridge calling. No other living creature larger than a beetle did we come across that day.
Returning to the camp at evening, out of temper, we were met by all the village, headed by the sheykh, who loudly hoped that we had had good sport, and brought home many tigers to provide a feast. When he heard that we had not so much as seen a single one he fell upon the luckless youth who had been told off to conduct us, and would have slain him, I believe, had we not intervened.
'Didst seek in all the haunts whereof I told thee? Well I know thou didst not, since they saw no tiger! Behold our faces blackened through thy sloth and folly, O abandoned beast!'
Restrained by force by two of our adherents, the sheykh spat venomously at the weeping guide, who swore by Allah that he had obeyed instructions to the letter.
Our English friend was much too angry to talk Arabic. He bade me tell the sheykh he was a liar, and that the country was as bare of tigers as his soul of truth. Some of our fellah adherents seconded my speech. The sheykh appeared amazed and greatly horrified.
'There are tigers,' he assured us, 'naturally! All that you desire.'
'Then go and find them for us!' said our friend, vindictively.
'Upon my head,' replied the complaisant old man, laying his right hand on his turban reverently. 'To hear is to obey.'
We regarded this reply as mere politeness, the affair as ended. What was our surprise next morning to see the sheykh and all the able men, accompanied by many children, set off up the mountain armed with staves and scimitars, and all the antique armament the village boasted! It had been our purpose to depart that day, but we remained to watch the outcome of that wondrous hunting.
The villagers spread out and 'beat' the mountain. All day long we heard their shouts far off among the upper heights. If any tiger had been there they must assuredly have roused him. But they returned at evening empty-handed, and as truly crestfallen as if they had indeed expected to bring home a bag of fifty tigers. One man presented me with a dead owl—the same, I think, which we had startled on the day before, as if to show that their display had not been quite in vain.
'No tigers!' sighed the sheykh, as though his heart were broken. 'What can have caused them all to go away? Unhappy day!' A lamentable wail went up from the whole crowd. 'A grievous disappointment, but the world is thus. But,' he added, with a sudden brightening, 'if your Honours will but condescend to stay a week or two, no doubt they will return.'
PRIDE AND A FALL
There was to be a grand fantasia at the castle of the greatest of Druze sheykhs in honour of a visit from the English Consul-General in Syria; and as an Englishman I was invited to be there. It was a journey of a day and a half. Upon the second morning Rashid and I had not gone far ere we fell in with other horsemen wending in the same direction as ourselves, well mounted and in holiday attire. All greeted us politely, but we kept apart, because they nearly all rode mares while we rode stallions—a fruitful source of trouble and a cause of war.
At length a young man mounted on a stallion overtook us with most cordial greetings. I had met him often. He was the son of a rich landowner in a neighbouring valley, and, I think, the most beautiful human creature I ever saw. That day he was particularly good to look at, his complexion of clear olive slightly flushed, his violet eyes beneath their long dark lashes dancing, his perfect white teeth gleaming with excitement and delight. He wore a cloak, broad striped, of white and crimson, a white frilled shirt of lawn showing above a vest of crimson velvet, fawn-coloured baggy trousers, and soft sheepskin boots. A snow-white turban crowned his whole appearance. His horse was thoroughbred and young, and he controlled its ceaseless dance to admiration. He told me that the stallion was his own, an uncle's gift, and quite the best in all the mountains; although mine, he added out of mere politeness, was undoubtedly a pearl of breeding and high spirit. He hoped with such a steed to gain renown in that day's horsemanship, and, if it might be, win the notice of the Consul-General and his lady.
'My father wished me to take out another horse,' he said; 'but I love this one, and am used to all his ways. I could not do myself full justice on another, nor would Rustem do his best for any other rider.'
He proceeded to discuss the horses which we saw before us on the road, pointing out in each of them some defect, and exclaiming: 'I shall excel them all, in sh' Allah! Does not your Honour also think my horse the best?'
I assured him that I did indeed, and all my wishes were for his success, 'because,' said I, 'I know and like you, and I do not know the others.'
'But some thou knowest for a certainty, for all the Mountain will be there. Come, let me name them to thee one by one.' And some of those he named were certainly well known to me.
'When thou seest Hasan, son of Ali, nicely mounted, wilt thou not think he is the better man?'
'No, no, by Allah!' I disclaimed such fickleness. 'Be sure that if good wishes can ensure success, all mine are with thee in to-day's event.'
'Allah increase thy wealth!' he cried in joy, as if I had bestowed on him a gift of price.
There was a crowd of many colours on the well-made road which wanders up through orchards to the village and ends on the meydan before the castle gate. There the crowd halted, making fast their horses to the many rings and tie-holes which were in the walls. Rashid took charge of my horse and his own, while I went on up steps on to a higher platform intersected by a stream of ice-cold water plunging down into the valley in a fine cascade whose spray and murmur cooled the air. That rush of water was the greatest luxury in such a land, and the lord of the castle took much pride in its contrivance.
I went up to a door where soldiers and domestics lounged, but was informed: 'Our lord is out of doors.' A soldier pointed to a bunch of trees above the waterfall and overlooking the meydan, where many notables in black frock coat and fez sat out on chairs. He ran on to announce my coming. I was soon a member of the formal group, replying to the usual compliments and kind inquiries.
Coffee was handed round. Then came a tray of different kinds of sherbet, then a tray of eatables. The chiefs around me talked of harvests and the price of land, but, most of all, of horses, since it was a horsey day. The screaming of a stallion came persistently from the meydan—a naughty screaming which foreboded mischief. I recognised the voice. The culprit was my own Sheytan. The screams were so disturbing, so indecent, that several of the great ones round me frowned and asked: 'Whose horse is that?' in accents of displeasure. I was ashamed to own him.
At length the lord of the castle called a servant to his side and whispered, pointing with his hand in the direction whence the screams proceeded. The servant hurried off, but presently returned and whispered something in his master's ear. His master looked at me and nodded gravely. He then addressed me in a deprecating tone, remarking: 'Your Honour's horse is too high-spirited; the crowd excites him. Will you allow him to be tethered in some other place?'
From the excessive smoothness of his manner I could guess that, had I been a native of the land, he would have told me to remove the vicious brute and myself likewise. I rose at once to go and see to it.
'Pray do not give yourself the trouble!' he exclaimed, distressed.
The servant went along with me, and, when we got to the meydan, Rashid came running. Sheytan was then indeed a terrifying sight, with streaming tail, mane bristling, and a wicked bloodshot eye, tearing at his head-rope, one minute pawing at the wall as if to climb it, the next kicking wildly with his head down. I know little of horses in general, but I knew that particular horse, and he knew me. I went up quietly and talked to him, then loosed the rope and led Sheytan away without much difficulty, Rashid meanwhile explaining to the servant of the house that no one else could possibly have done it. We tied him at the further end of the meydan.
Then I went back on to the terrace, where the notables had risen and were looking at the youths who were to take part in the fantasia, among them my companion of the road, the young Sheykh Abdul Hamid. These were now on the parade-ground with their horses. My neighbour in the group of great ones said, politely:
'Your Honour should go with them; it is only proper, since their going is to compliment the representative of England. And you are, I see, a very skilful cavalier. The way you quieted that horse of yours was wonderful. We have all been talking of it. Ride with them!'
I begged to be excused. The essence of the fantasia is to show off one's own prowess and one's horse's paces while careering madly in a widish circle round some given object—an open carriage with some great one in it, or a bridal pair—taking no note of obstacles, dashing over rocks and gulleys and down breakneck slopes, loading and firing off a gun at intervals, in full career. I had tried the feeling of it once at a friend's wedding, and had been far from happy, though my horse enjoyed the romp and often tried to start it afterwards when there was no occasion. Remembering Abdul Hamid and his desire for praise that day, I said:
'There is only one good horseman here—Abdul Hamid, the son of the Sheykh Mustafa. All the rest of us, compared with him, are mere pedestrians.'
I pointed out the youth in question to my neighbour, who was a man of power in the mountains, and he praised the beauty of his form on horseback.
'By Allah, right is with thee,' he assented. 'There is none but he.'
Away they went—Jinblats, Talhuks, and Abdul Meliks—all in clean white turbans, with coloured cloaks a-stream upon the breeze, on horses gorgeously caparisoned. We waited half an hour—in silence, as it seemed; and then we heard the noise of their return, the shouts, the firing. I swear I saw a horse and man surmount a housetop in the village and then leap down upon the other side. At last, with yells and reckless gunshots and a whirl of dust, the crowd of horsemen came full tilt on the meydan. Their leader—in appearance a mad angel—was my friend, Abdul Hamid. Suddenly he drew his rein, flinging the steed right back upon his haunches. In so doing, looking up at me with a triumphant smile, he somehow missed his balance and pitched clear over his horse's head, just at the very moment when a carriage and pair containing the beaming Consul-General and his lady, with a glorious Cawwas upon the box, arrived upon the scene. I ran to help him, but another person was before me. A tall old man, whose garb bespoke him an initiated Druze, rushed out among the horses and the dust and beat the wretched lad about the shoulders, heaping curses on that lovely head for bringing shame upon an honoured house before such company. It was the lad's own father, the Sheykh Mustafa. I helped to drag the old man off, and would have gone on to console the son; but just then I beheld Sheytan approaching with a broken head-rope. I contrived to catch him and to mount without attending to the girths; and, once on horseback, I was glad to be there; for quite fifty of the tethered steeds had broken loose in the excitement, and were rushing here and there and fighting in a most alarming way. I have always had a dread of horse-fights, and this was not a single fight; it was a melee, fresh horses every minute breaking loose to join it. Right in my way two angry stallions rose up, boxing one another like the lion and the unicorn, and a little boy of ten or thereabouts ran in between and, jumping, caught their head-ropes.
I escaped at last and rode down through the village to the bottom of the valley, where a grove of walnut trees cast pleasant shade beside a stream. There Rashid found me later in the day. He told me that my disappearance had caused consternation and alarm, the Consul-General and his lady having asked for me. Bidding him remain with the two horses, I went back on foot to the castle, where I stayed only the time necessary to pay my respects.
As I was returning towards the valley, a litter borne between two mules was leaving the meydan. Beside it walked the stern Sheykh Mustafa, and in it, I had little doubt, reclined the beautiful Abdul Hamid.
I asked the serving-man who led the foremost mule if his young lord was seriously hurt. He answered:
'Yes; for he has broken his elbow and his shoulder and his collar-bone. But that is nothing, since he has disgraced our house.'
A bitter wail of 'Woe the day!' came from within the palanquin.
The sun was sinking down over the sea, the mountain wall with all its clefts and promontories wore a cloak of many colours, when we saw before us on a rock a ruined tower. We were looking for some human habitation where we might get food and shelter for the night; but we should have passed by that building, taking it to be deserted, had not we espied a woman's figure sitting out before it in the evening light.
Experience of late had taught us to shun villages, belonging thereabouts to a peculiar sect, whose members made a virtue of inhospitality. At noon that day, when wishing to buy food, we had been met with such amazing insults that Rashid, my henchman, had not yet recovered from his indignation, and still brooded on revenge. On seeing that the ruined tower had occupants, he said:
'If these refuse us, we will force an entrance mercilessly; for see, they dwell alone, with none to help them.'
He rode before me towards the tower, with shoulders squared and whip upraised.
It surprised me that the woman sitting out before the door appeared indifferent to his approach, until, upon a closer view, I saw that she was old and blind. She must, I thought, be deaf as well, since she had failed to move at sound of hoof beats; which sound brought out an aged man, who shattered Rashid's plan of vengeance by exclaiming: 'Itfaddalu! (Perform a kindness!' that is, 'Enter!').
'It is thou who doest kindness,' I replied, by rote. 'We are thy suppliants for food and rest this night.'
'All mine is thine,' the old man answered, coming to hold my horse's head, while I dismounted. His wrinkled face was moulded to a patient, sad expression, which became more noticeable when he smiled; and he was always smiling.
I went into the tower and down a flight of much-worn steps, which ended in a heap of fallen masonry.
'Deign to proceed,' called out the tenant from behind me; when, climbing over the obstruction, I found myself in a large room, of which the only furniture consisted in a heap of bedding and some cooking things. Rather to my surprise the place was clean. The old man flung himself upon the ground and blew upon the mass of charcoal in a brazier, and presently a smell of coffee stewing filled the dungeon; for such it doubtless had been in the past, its only window being high above our heads, yet only just above the level of the rock, as I discovered when I went to seek Rashid, who, by our host's direction, had bestowed the horses in a cavern by the sea. The blind old woman still sat out before the door.
I walked all round the tower and noticed small fields neatly fenced below it on the landward side, and a few hobbled goats upon a strip of herbage near the shore; which, with some fishing-nets spread out upon the rocks to dry, informed me how our host obtained a livelihood.
As I went back towards the door, I met Rashid bringing our saddlebags. He nodded to the woman, who still sat there motionless, and told me: 'She is mad, the poor old creature—but not dangerous. Fear nothing. They are quite good people. It is strange, but he informs me she is not his mother nor his wife, nor anyone by birth allied to him. And yet he waits upon her, helpless as she is.'
Just then, the master of the tower appeared, and, going to the woman, took her hand and raised her. 'Itfaddalu!' he said, with just the same polite alacrity with which he welcomed us on our arrival, as if she, too, had been an honoured guest. We all went down the broken steps into the dungeon. A meal of fish and bread was set before us. The woman took her food apart. The master of the house did not sit down till she was satisfied; and, after supper, he set out a bed for her, and then washed out the vessels, before he came again and sat with us. By that time the old woman was asleep. Two lighted wicks, passed through a piece of cork which floated in a bowl of oil and water, roused the shadows of the vault. A sudden outcry at the far end of the room made us both jump.
'Fear nothing!' said our entertainer. 'She is dreaming. Ah, poor lady! Our Lord repay her goodness in the next life for all the evil she has borne in this!'
'Is it permissible to ask to hear her story?' said Rashid.
The old man looked at me with a reluctant smile, as who should say: 'It is a sad tale. Would you really care to hear it?'
I nodded gravely, and, with a deep sigh, he began:
'Many years ago—how many it is now impossible for me to say, for, dwelling here, I have lost count of time—a certain chieftain of the desert Arabs had a son who loved the daughter of his father's enemy. There was no intercourse between the houses, but the young prince of whom I speak contrived to see the maiden and to meet her stealthily, even riding in among the dwellings of her people at risk of his own life and mine; for I must tell you that I am his foster-brother, though not by blood a scion of the desert, and so I served him, as was usual with us, in the quality of an esquire.
'Both tribes were of those Arabs which have villages for their headquarters, without renouncing the old life of war and wandering. Our village was upon the borders of the Belka, and hers far north towards the Hauran. In those days there were no Turkish military posts beyond the Jordan. The feuds and customs of the tribes were then the only law; though now, they tell me, that that country is made safe for travel.
'There was no means to bridge the gulf which custom fixed between the lovers; and so my foster-brother, being mad with longing for the maid, decided to abduct her and escape into the settled country. I, loving him, applauded all his schemes. The princess Amineh—for she was the daughter of a sovereign chief—was of a spirit equal to his own. She rode out from her father's town by night upon the best mare of the tribe with but one girl attendant. My lord and I were waiting by a certain well. And then we rode, well knowing that both tribes would hunt us, towards the wilayet, where there was law and Turkish power to protect us. The princess Amineh lacked a man's endurance, and her woman suffered greatly from fatigue. Their weakness had to be considered, and there came a time when it was evident that they could go no further without rest.
'We were then within a short day's journey of the nearest Government post, attaining which we should have been in safety. We took refuge in a ruined sheepcote. I was keeping the look-out while all the others slept, when I noticed a small cloud of dust uprising in the distance. I roused my lord, and told him: "The pursuers come." He looked upon the princess and her maiden: they lay fast asleep, exhausted by fatigue.
'"Let be," he said. "There is no hope for us in flight. Lie low. Perhaps they will pass by without perceiving us."
'And so they might have done, God knows, had not our horses neighed, winding the other horses.'
The old man wrung his hands, then hid his eyes with them.
'Never, never can I tell the details of what followed. We fought, and the princess fought beside us, snatching a scimitar which I was wearing from my side. Her boldness helped us somewhat to delay the end, for our assailants were her father's people, and they feared to hurt her. But the end came; it was from the first inevitable. I was lying helpless on the ground, wounded, but fully conscious, when they slew my lord. At once they hewed his body into fragments, each of which was soon exalted on a spear. The princess, wounded in the face, and pinioned, witnessed that. Her damsel lay inanimate, and at the time I thought her dead. She was my promised bride. Then the Emir approached with a great spear—as I suppose, to kill his daughter, but just then there were loud shouts, and then another battle, in which I heard the war-cry of our tribe. The father of my lord, pursuing also with intent to punish us, had come upon his ancient enemy at unawares. He won the day. The other Arabs broke and fled. The noblest of our braves pursued them; but several of the lewder sort remained behind to torture and dishonour my unhappy lady. I tried to rise and rescue her, but, with the effort, my spirit left my body, and I lay as dead—the praise to Allah!—which is the reason why I am alive to-day.
'So great a fight could not take place so near the guarded country without coming to the knowledge of the Government. Ten Turkish soldiers, armed with carbines, and an ombashi, coming to the spot next day, discovered us, and carried the survivors to a place of safety. The princess was then, as you yourselves have seen her, except that she was young and now is old. Her damsel had survived the fight without much hurt, by God's protection, having lain upon the ground so still that she was left for dead. When I recovered from my wounds, I married her.
'So tragic was our tale that all men pitied us. The Governor himself protected the princess, and placed her with the women of his household. But she could not be happy in the city, in that kind of life; her soul grew restless, pining. My wife, who visited her every day, was grieved for her; and when I found that it was as she said, I went and asked the Governor's permission to support our lady. Perceiving that she was not happy in his house, he yielded; and we three wandered through the settled country for long months, the people showing kindness to us through compassion, for our tale was known. At last we reached this ruin by the sea, which pleased our lady because, my wife believed, the mountains are so like a wall raised up between her and the country of her grief. That must be thirty years ago; but she has never wandered since.
'My wife died and I buried her beside the shore; for years I have performed her duties to our lady. The people of these parts are wicked, but they let us be, because they think that we are under some enchantment. My prayer is always that I may survive my lady, for how could she, poor creature, fare alone? So far, we have been very fortunate, praise be to Allah!'
Rashid was loud in his expressions of amazement at the story, his mind intent upon the central tragedy. He said no word of praise or wonder at our host's self-sacrifice. That he accepted, as a thing of course. This attitude of his, which I observed, prevented me from uttering the words of pity and condolence which were on my tongue; and I am glad those words were never uttered, for they were impertinent, and would have seemed absurd to Orientals, who have not our sentiment.
So, after the conclusion of the tale, we went to bed.
The moon began to shine upon the gardens of Damascus, casting pale shadows, though the daylight had not quite departed, and the sky behind the trees to westward was still green. We were sitting out on stools under the walnut trees, beside a stream which made a pleasant murmur. The air was laden with the scent of unseen roses. Behind us was a little tavern with a lantern lighted in its entrance arch, a solitary yellow eye amid the twilight.
We were the centre of a crowd, as usual when Suleyman was with us. His voice attracted people like a drum, and the matter of his talk had power to hold them. It was a weighty voice of studied modulations, which promised wisdom on the brink of laughter. He generally chose some moral or religious subject for discourse, and illustrated it by what we call 'nawadir' (rare things) selected from his vast experience of life. By his own account he had journeyed to the world's rim, and had associated not alone with men, but also with jinn and ghouls. On the other hand, he had been to Europe several times, and knew the streets of Paris and of London. Somehow, one never doubted any of his stories while he was telling them, the accents of his voice had such conviction. One was conscious that his tales—even the most extravagant—were true in some mysterious, intrinsic way. This time he chose to speak to us of guilt and innocence, of good and evil works, and their effect on man's salvation. He aired the theory, which roused approving murmurs in the listening circle, that to have a good intention was the chief desideratum for every son of Adam on his journey through the world, no matter though his works might turn out bad or unsuccessful.
'To lie with good intention is better than to tell the truth with bad intention,' he declared.
'To lie is the salt of a man; the shame is to him who believes,' put in Rashid, my servant, who was great at proverbs.
Suleyman paid no heed to the interruption.
'A sin committed thoughtlessly,' said he, 'is light compared with one which thou hast hatched and planned.'
'Nay, O beloved, a sin is a sin, appointed so by the Most High; and the duty of a man is to avoid it. The hurt to man's salvation is the same, however he approach it,' said an old man in the audience. 'If I cut my hand, is the wound less, is it not rather likely to be more—for being thoughtless?'
There was a murmur of applause as all eyes turned on this objector, whose likeness could not be distinguished in the gloaming.
I spoke in approbation of the view expressed, and the old man, emboldened, laughed:
'To lie is bad, to kill is bad, to steal is bad. Our Lord destroy this rogue of an Intention, which plain men cannot catch nor understand!'
'Nay, listen!' Suleyman became persuasive and profoundly earnest, as was his manner always under opposition. 'Thou hast not altogether caught my meaning. I say a man should trust in the Most High, not think too much beforehand of his ways. By thinking beforehand, he may form a bad intention, since man's thoughts are naturally fallible. Let him think afterwards, thus he will learn to shun such snares in future, and by repentance place a good work to his credit. Men learn wisdom from their sins, not from their righteous deeds. And the consciousness of sin, the knowledge that they may at any moment fall into it, preserves them from the arrogance of goodness.'