In the Valley of the Shadow
THEN days had elapsed since the capture of Tancred; Amalek and his Arabs were still encamped in the rocky city; the beams of the early sun were just rising over the crest of the amphitheatre, when four horsemen, who were recognised as the children of Rechab, issued from the ravine. They galloped over the plain, shouted, and threw their lances in the air. From the crescent of black tents came forth the warriors, some mounted their horses and met their returning brethren, others prepared their welcome. The horses neighed, the camels stirred their long necks. All living things seemed conscious that an event had occurred.
The four horsemen were surrounded by their brethren; but one of them, giving and returning blessings, darted forward to the pavilion of the great Sheikh.
'Have you brought camels, Shedad, son of Amroo?' inquired one of the welcomers to the welcomed.
'We have been to El Khuds,' was the reply. 'What we have brought back is a seal of Solomon.
'From Mount Seir to the City of the Friend, what have you seen in the joyful land?'
'We found the sons of Hamar by the well-side of Jumda; we found the marks of many camels in the pass of Gharendel, and the marks in the pass of Gharendel were not the marks of the camels of the Beni-Hamar.'
'I had a dream, and the children of Tora said to me, "Who art thou in the hands of our father's flocks? Are none but the sons of Rechab to drink the sweet waters of Edom?" Methinks the marks in the pass of Gharendel were the marks of the camels of the children of Tora.'
'There is a feud between the Beni-Tora and the Beni-Hamar,' replied the other Arab, shaking his head. 'The Beni-Tora are in the wilderness of Akiba, and the Beni-Hamar have burnt their tents and captured their camels and their women. This is why the sons of Hamar are watering their flocks by the well of Jumda.'
In the meantime, the caravan, of which the four horsemen were the advanced guard, issued from the pass into the plain.
'Shedad, son of Amroo,' exclaimed one of the Bedouins, 'what! have you captured an harem?' For he beheld dromedaries and veiled women.
The great Sheikh came forth from his pavilion and sniffed the morning air; a dignified smile played over his benignant features, and once he smoothed his venerable beard.
'My son-in-law is a true son of Israel,' he murmured complacently to himself. 'He will trust his gold only to his own blood.'
The caravan wound about the plain, then crossed the stream at the accustomed ford, and approached the amphitheatre.
The horsemen halted, some dismounted, the dromedaries knelt down, Baroni assisted one of the riders from her seat; the great Sheikh advanced and said, 'Welcome in the name of God! welcome with a thousand blessings!'
'I come in the name of God; I come with a thousand blessings,' replied the lady.
'And with a thousand something else,' thought Amalek to himself; but the Arabs are so polished that they never make unnecessary allusions to business.
'Had I thought the Queen of Sheba was going to pay me a visit,' said the great Sheikh, 'I would have brought the pavilion of Miriam. How is the Rose of Sharon?' he continued, as he ushered Eva into his tent. 'How is the son of my heart; how is Besso, more generous than a thousand kings?'
'Speak not of the son of thy heart,' said Eva, seating herself on the divan. 'Speak not of Besso, the generous and the good, for his head is strewn with ashes, and his mouth is full of sand.'
'What is this?' thought Amalek. 'Besso is not ill, or his daughter would not be here. This arrow flies not straight. Does he want to scrape my piastres? These sons of Israel that dwell in cities will mix their pens with our spears. I will be obstinate as an Azafeer camel.'
Slaves now entered, bringing coffee and bread, the Sheikh asking questions as they ate, as to the time Eva quitted Jerusalem, her halting-places in the desert, whether she had met with any tribes; then he offered to his granddaughter his own chibouque, which she took with ceremony, and instantly returned, while they brought her aromatic nargileh.
Eva scanned the imperturbable countenance of her grandfather: calm, polite, benignant, she knew the great Sheikh too well to suppose for a moment that its superficial expression was any indication of his innermost purpose. Suddenly she said, in a somewhat careless tone, 'And why is the Lord of the Syrian pastures in this wilderness, that has been so long accursed?'
The great Sheikh took his pipe from his mouth, and then slowly sent forth its smoke through his nostrils, a feat of which he was proud. Then he placidly replied: 'For the same reason that the man named Baroni made a visit to El Khuds.'
'The man named Baroni came to demand succour for his lord, who is your prisoner.'
'And also to obtain two millions of piastres,' added Amalek.
'Two millions of piastres! Why not at once ask for the throne of Solomon?'
'Which would be given, if required,' rejoined Amalek. 'Was it not said in the divan of Besso, that if this Prince of Franguestan wished to rebuild the Temple, the treasure would not be wanting?'
'Said by some city gossip,' said Eva, scornfully.
'Said by your father, daughter of Besso, who, though he lives in cities, is not a man who will say that almonds are pearls.'
Eva controlled her countenance, though it was difficult to conceal her mortification as she perceived how well informed her grandfather was of all that passed under their roof, and of the resources of his prisoner. It was necessary, after the last remark of the great Sheikh, to take new ground, and, instead of dwelling, as she was about to do, on the exaggeration of public report, and attempting to ridicule the vast expectations of her host, she said, in a soft tone, 'You did not ask me why Besso was in such affliction, father of my mother?'
'There are many sorrows: has he lost ships? If a man is in sound health, all the rest are dreams. And Besso needs no hakeem, or you would not be here, my Rose of Sharon.'
'The light may have become darkness in our eyes, though we may still eat and drink,' said Eva. 'And that has happened to Besso which might have turned a child's hair grey in its cradle.'
'Who has poisoned his well? Has he quarrelled with the Porte?' said the Sheikh, without looking at her.
'It is not his enemies who have pierced him in the back.'
'Humph,' said the great Sheikh.
'And that makes his heart more heavy,' said Eva.
'He dwells too much in walls,' said the great Sheikh. 'He should have ridden into the desert, instead of you, my child. He should have brought the ransom himself; 'and the great Sheikh sent two curling streams out of his nostrils.
'Whoever be the bearer, he is the payer,' said Eva. 'It is he who is the prisoner, not this son of Franguestan, who, you think, is your captive.'
'Your father wishes to scrape my piastres,' said the great Sheikh, in a stern voice, and looking his granddaughter full in the face.
'If he wanted to scrape piastres from the desert,' said Eva, in a sweet but mournful voice, 'would Besso have given you the convoy of the Hadj without condition or abatement?'
The great Sheikh drew a long breath from his chibouque. After a momentary pause, he said, 'In a family there should ever be unity and concord; above all things, words should not be dark. How much will the Queen of the English give for her brother?
'He is not the brother of the Queen of the English,' said Eva.
'Not when he is my spoil, in my tent,' said Amalek, with a cunning smile; 'but put him on a round hat in a walled city, and then he is the brother of the Queen of the English.'
'Whatever his rank, he is the charge of Besso, my father and your son,' said Eva; 'and Besso has pledged his heart, his life, and his honour, that this young prince shall not be hurt. For him he feels, for him he speaks, for him he thinks. Is it to be told in the bazaars of Franguestan that his first office of devotion was to send this youth into the desert to be spoiled by the father of his wife?'
'Why did my daughters marry men who live in cities?' exclaimed the old Sheikh.
'Why did they marry men who made your peace with the Egyptian, when not even the desert could screen you? Why did they marry men who gained you the convoy of the Hadj, and gave you the milk of ten thousand camels?'
'Truly, there is but one God in the desert and in the city,' said Amalek. 'Now, tell me, Rose of Sharon, how many piastres have you brought me?'
'If you be in trouble, Besso will aid you as he has done; if you wish to buy camels, Besso will assist you as before; but if you expect ransom for his charge, whom you ought to have placed on your best mare of Nedgid, then I have not brought a para.'
'It is clearly the end of the world,' said Amalek, with a savage sigh.
'Why I am here,' said Eva, 'I am only the child of your child, a woman without spears; why do you not seize me and send to Besso? He must ransom me, for I am the only offspring of his loins. Ask for four millions of piastres I He can raise them. Let him send round to all the cities of Syria, and tell his brethren that a Bedouin Sheikh has made his daughter and her maidens captive, and, trust me, the treasure will be forthcoming. He need not say it is one on whom he has lavished a thousand favours, whose visage was darker than the simoom when he made the great Pasha smile on him; who, however he may talk of living in cities now, could come cringing to El Sham to ask for the contract of the Hadj, by which he had gained ten thousand camels; he need say nothing of all this, and, least of all, need he say that the spoiler is his father!'
'What is this Prince of Franguestan to thee and thine?' said Amalek. 'He comes to our land like his brethren, to see the sun and seek for treasure in our ruins, and he bears, like all of them, some written words to your father, saying, "Give to this man what he asks, and we will give to your people what they ask." I understand all this: they all come to your father because he deals in money, and is the only man in Syria who has money. What he pays, he is again paid. Is it not so, Eva? Daughter of my blood, let there not be strife between us; give me a million piastres, and a hundred camels to the widow of Sheikh Salem, and take the brother of the Queen.'
'Camels shall be given to the widow of Sheikh Salem,' said Eva, in a conciliatory voice; 'but for this ransom of which you speak, my father, it is not a question as to the number of piastres. If you want a million of piastres, shall it be said that Besso would not lend, perhaps give, them to the great Sheikh he loves? But, you see, my father of fathers, piastres and this Frank stranger are not of the same leaven. Name them not together, I pray you; mix not their waters. It concerns the honour, and welfare, and safety, and glory of Besso that you should cover this youth with a robe of power, and place him upon your best dromedary, and send him back to El Khuds.' The great Sheikh groaned.
'Have I opened a gate that I am unable to close?' he at length said. 'What is begun shall be finished. Have the children of Rechab been brought from the sweet wells of Costal to this wilderness ever accursed to fill their purses with stones? Will they not return and say that my beard is too white? Yet do I wish that this day was finished. Name then at once, my daughter, the piastres that you will give; for the prince, the brother of queens, may to-morrow be dust.' 'How so?' eagerly inquired Eva. 'He is a Mejnoun,' replied Amalek. 'After the man named Baroni departed for El Khuds, the Prince of Franguestan would not rest until he visited Gibel Mousa, and I said "Yes" to all his wishes. Whether it were his wound inflamed by his journey, or grief at his captivity, for these Franks are the slaves of useless sorrow, he returned as wild as Kais, and now lies in his tent, fancying he is still on Mount Sinai. 'Tis the fifth day of the fever, and Shedad, the son of Amroo, tells me that the sixth will be fatal unless we can give him the gall of a phoenix, and such a bird is not to be found in this part of Arabia.
Now, you are a great hakeem, my child of children; go then to the young prince, and see what can be done: for if he die, we can scarcely ransom him, and I shall lose the piastres, and your father the backsheesh which I meant to have given him on the transaction.'
'This is very woful,' murmured Eva to herself, and not listening to the latter observations of her grandfather.
At this moment the curtain of the pavilion was withdrawn, and there stood before them Fakredeen. The moment his eyes met those of Eva, he covered his face with both his hands.
'How is the Prince of Franguestan?' inquired Amalek.
The young Emir advanced, and threw himself at the feet of Eva. 'We must entreat the Rose of Sharon to visit him,' he said, 'for there is no hakeem in Arabia equal to her. Yes, I came to welcome you, and to entreat you to do this kind office for the most gifted and the most interesting of beings;' and he looked up in her face with a supplicating glance.
'And you too, are you fearful,' said Eva, in atone of tender reproach, 'that by his death you may lose your portion of the spoil?'
The Emir gave a deprecating glance of anguish, and then, bending his head, pressed his lips to the Bedouin robes which she wore. ' 'Tis the most unfortunate of coincidences, but believe me, dearest of friends, 'tis only a coincidence. I am here merely by accident; I was hunting, I was——'
'You will make me doubt your intelligence as well as your good faith,' said Eva, 'if you persist in such assurances.'
'Ah! if you but knew him,' exclaimed Fakredeen, 'you would believe me when I tell you that I am ready to sacrifice even my life for his. Far from sharing the spoil,' he added, in a rapid and earnest whisper, 'I had already proposed, and could have insured, his escape; when he went to Sinai, to that unfortunate Sinai. I had two dromedaries here, thoroughbred; we might have reached Hebron before——'
'You went with him to Sinai?'
'He would not suffer it; he desired, he said, to be silent and to be alone. One of the Bedouins, who accompanied him, told me that they halted in the valley, and that he went up alone into the mountain, where he remained a day and night. When he returned hither, I perceived a great change in him. His words were quick, his eye glittered like fire; he told me that he had seen an angel, and in the morning he was as he is now. I have wept, I have prayed for him in the prayers of every religion, I have bathed his temples with liban, and hung his tent with charms. O Rose of Sharon! Eva, beloved, darling Eva, I have faith in no one but in you. See him, I beseech you, see him! If you but knew him, if you had but listened to his voice, and felt the greatness of his thoughts and spirit, it would not need that I should make this entreaty. But, alas! you know him not; you have never listened to him; you have never seen him; or neither he, nor I, nor any of us, would have been here, and have been thus.'