Part 5, Chapter 1

Part V

Chapter 1

‘NOW our dreary way is over, now the desert’s toil is past. Soon the river broadly flowing, through its green and palmy banks, to our wearied limbs shall offer baths which caliphs cannot buy. Allah-illah, Allah-hu. Allah-illah, Allah-hu.’*

‘Blessed the man who now may bear a relic from our Prophet’s tomb; blessed the man who now unfolds the treasures of a distant mart, jewels of the dusky East, and silks of farthest Samarcand. Allah-illah, Allah-hu. Allah-illah, Allah-hu.’

‘Him the sacred mosque shall greet with a reverence grave and low; him the busy Bezestein* shall welcome with confiding smile. Holy merchant, now receive the double triumph of thy toil. Allah-illah, Allah-hu. Allah-illah, Allah-hu.’

‘The camel jibs, Abdallah!* See, there is something in the track.’

‘By the holy stone,16 a dead man. Poor devil! One should never make a pilgrimage on foot. I hate your humble piety. Prick the beast and he will pass the corpse.’

‘The Prophet preaches charity, Abdallah. He has favoured my enterprise, and I will practise his precept. See if he be utterly dead.’

It was the Mecca caravan returning to Bagdad. The pilgrims were within a day’s journey of the Euphrates, and welcomed their approach to fertile earth with a triumphant chorus. Far as the eye could reach, the long line of their straggling procession stretched across the wilderness, thousands of camels in strings, laden with bales of merchandise, and each company headed by an animal of superior size, leading with tinkling bells; groups of horsemen, clusters of litters; all the pilgrims armed to their teeth, the van formed by a strong division of Seljukian cavalry, and the rear protected by a Kourdish clan, who guaranteed the security of the pious travellers through their country.

Abdallah was the favourite slave of the charitable merchant Ali. In obedience to his master's orders, he unwillingly descended from his camel, and examined the body of the apparently lifeless Alroy.

‘A Kourd by his dress,’ exclaimed Abdallah, with a sneer; ‘what does he here?’

‘It is not the face of a Kourd,’ replied Ali; ‘perchance a pilgrim from the mountains.’

‘Whatever he be, he is dead,’ answered the slave: ‘I doubt not an accursed Giaour.’

‘God is great,’ exclaimed Ali; ‘he breathes; the breast of his caftan heaved.’

‘’Twas the wind,’ said Abdallah.

‘’Twas the sigh of a human heart,’ answered Ali.

Several pilgrims who were on foot now gathered around the group.

‘I am a Hakim,’17 observed a dignified Armenian. ‘I will feel his pulse; ’tis dull, but it beats.’

‘There is but one God,’ exclaimed Ali.

‘And Mahomed is his Prophet,’ responded Abdallah. ‘You do not believe in him, Armenian infidel.’

‘I am a Hakim,’ replied the dignified Armenian. ‘Although an infidel, God has granted me skill to cure true believers. Worthy Ali, believe me, the boy may yet live.’

‘Hakim, you shall count your own dirhems if he breathe in my divan in Bagdad,’ answered Ali; ‘I have taken a fancy to the boy. God has sent him to me. He shall carry my slippers.’

‘Give me a camel, and I will save his life.’

‘We have none,’ said the servant.

‘Walk, Abdallah,’ said the master.

‘Is a true believer to walk to save the life of a Kourd? Master slipper-bearer shall answer for this, if there be sweetness in the bastinado,’* murmured Abdallah.

The Armenian bled Alroy; the blood flowed slowly but surely. The Prince of the Captivity opened his eyes.

‘There is but one God,’ exclaimed Ali.

‘The evil eye fall on him!’ muttered Abdallah.

The Armenian took a cordial from his vest, and poured it down his patient’s throat. The blood flowed more freely.

‘He will live, worthy merchant,’ said the physician.

‘And Mahomed is his Prophet,’ continued Ali.

‘By the stone of Mecca, I believe it is a Jew,’ shouted Abdallah.

‘The dog!’ exclaimed Ali.

‘Pah!’ said a negro-slave, drawing back with disgust.

‘He will die,’ said the Christian physician, not even binding up the vein.

‘And be damned,’ said Abdallah, again jumping on his camel.

The party rode on, the caravan proceeded. A Kourdish horseman galloped forward. He curbed his steed as he passed Alroy bleeding to death.

‘What accursed slave has wounded one of my clan?’

The Kourd leaped off his horse, stripped off a slip of his blue shirt, stanched the wound, and carried the unhappy Alroy to the rear.

The desert ceased, the caravan entered upon a vast but fruitful plain. In the extreme distance might be descried a long undulating line of palm-trees. The vanguard gave a shout, shook their tall lances in the air, and rattled their scimetars in rude chorus against their small round iron shields. All eyes sparkled, all hands were raised, all voices sounded, save those that were breathless from overpowering joy. After months wandering in the sultry wilderness, they beheld the great Euphrates.

Broad and fresh, magnificent and serene, the mighty waters rolled through the beautiful and fertile earth. A vital breeze rose from their bosom. Every being responded to their genial influence. The sick were cured, the desponding became sanguine, the healthy and light-hearted broke into shouts of laughter, jumped from their camels, and embraced the fragrant earth, or, wild in their renovated strength, galloped over the plain, and threw their wanton jerreeds in the air,18 as if to show that suffering and labour had not deprived them of that skill and strength, without which it were vain again to enter the haunts of their less adventurous brethren.

The caravan halted on the banks of the broad river, glowing in the cool sunset. The camp was pitched, the plain glittered with tents. The camels, falling on their knees, crouched in groups, the merchandise piled up in masses by their sides. The unharnessed horses rushed neighing about the plain, tossing their glad heads, and rolling in the unaccustomed pasture. Spreading their mats, and kneeling towards Mecca, the pilgrims performed their evening orisons. Never was thanksgiving more sincere. They arose: some rushed into the river, some lighted lamps, some pounded coffee.19 Troops of smiling villagers arrived with fresh provisions, eager to prey upon such light hearts and heavy purses. It was one of those occasions when the accustomed gravity of the Orient disappears. Long through the night the sounds of music and the shouts of laughter were heard on the banks of that starry river; long through the night you might have listened with enchantment to the wild tales of the storier, or gazed with fascination on the wilder gestures of the dancing girls.20