صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

command as wide a sweep of the Sahara as possible, and search for moving objects, or the smoke or fire of a bivouac. Up to the eighth day since his departure from Ghadames, he had, however, seen nothing to confirm him in the notion that the Shanbâh were approaching the city. He had indeed crossed one or two tracks“trails,” as they are called on the new continent—which showed that there had been recent travellers in the wilderness; but in companies of only three or four. Hunting parties he supposed them to be ; or if robbers, they would not venture near to the town.

Upon the eighth day he reached the well of Kossa, upon the route between Ghadames and Tripoli, and distant three days' journey from the former. He drank at this well and watered his camel; ate a few dates, the principal provisions with which he had stored his panniers ; and was engaged in replenishing his waterskin, when he felt a slight blow near the knee, and immediately after heard the report of a gun. Springing for shelter to the side of his Maharee, which had lain down, he seized his own matchlock, and, discharging it over the neck of the camel, shot one of three men, whom he now saw among some bushes, at the foot of a group of palms. Balls from two other barrels responded to his fire : one buried itself in the brain of the noble Maharee ; the other wounded the youth himself, severely, in the temple. The Maharee shuddered and fell dead : Essnousee swooned,

The Shanbah, for such were his assailants, now advanced. Their party had consisted but of the three whom he had seen; and two only were fated to return to their native hills. These two having satisfied themselves that he was at least past all present power of being dangerous, confiscated his matchlock, his pistols, his dagger, his dates, his water-skin, a part of his clothing, and a few other articles found upon his person or in the panniers of his Maharee ; and having placed these upon their own beast - for they took with them one led camel, though they travelled on foot — they piously buried their companion, and, kneeling for a few minutes, with their faces towards the east, to render thanks for the spoil so cheaply acquired—by the destruction only of a friend, a stranger, and a Maharee—and to pray for equally good luck upon the morrow, they turned towards their own country. How far they travelled in that direction it does not fall within the occasion of the present narrative to record.

Whether mercy on the part of the robbers would leave the Ghadamsee a chance of life,—whether cruelty would resign him to a slow death in the desert,- -or whether they believed him to be dead, and would not be at the trouble of burying a stranger, I do not pretend to explain ; but Essnousee was not killed, though severely wounded. When night spread her gold-spangled drapery over the sleeping earth, and herself sank to sleep on its bosom, among the palms of Kossa, the cool air revived him ; but he woke only to pain and despair. He felt the smart of his wounds, and the fever of fatigue and agony. Unable to move, and without food, he had no prospect before him but to die from the torture he was now suffering—from the parching heat to which he would be exposed upon the morrow,- -or worse than both, from hunger. The moon looked down like daylight rushing through a window in the dark-blue dome above him. Very slowly did the heavens appear to revolve : long had he been accustomed to compute time by their motion ; but their machinery seemed out of order now.

From hour to hour a lonely gust startled the slumbering murmurs from the date trees, as it brushed past them in its ghostly walk across the desert ; and the only sound heard between seemed a whisper of the stars, or the very heart-beat of the sleeping silence. But when the moon had at last got low, he heard from afar what was easily recognised as the motion of a living thing upon the wilderness ; and his practised ear soon knew it to be that of a horse, approaching from the direction of Tripoli. He had yet long to wait erè it drew near to the well of Kossa, and sometimes it became faint, so as scarcely to be distinguished ; sometimes grew suddenly louder, according to the undulation or consistency of the ground over which the rider passed. It was unusual for any one to traverse the desert alone, and on horseback particularly, on account of the difficulty of carrying stores for the journey. Essnousee imagined that this must be another of the predatory horde of the Shanbâhs ; and that probably the robbers were encamped in large numbers in the neighbourhood. He expected a coup de grâce from the stranger.

When the sun rose Essnousee was still by the well of Kossa ; but a person by his side had washed and bound up his wounds, and refreshed him with dates and dried camel's flesh. The traveller, too, had assisted him to move into a spot where he would be sheltered from the sun by a thick group of palm-trees, and there they conversed together. Essnousee's pain was much alleviated by the application of cold water, and his strength much restored by food. He was able to hold discourse with the stranger.

In answer to questions from the individual who bad, come thus opportunely to his aid, Essnousee narrated the circumstances which had brought him to that spot, and that of his affray with the robbers. He mentioned his name, and that he was of the faction of the Wezeets of the holy, or mahrabout city of Ghadames. The stranger would not in turn relate his history, until the wounded ma'n should have taken the rest of which he was so much in need; Essnousee slept during the heat of the day beneath the palm-trees; and the horseman having cleaned and reloaded his gun

and pistols, and fastened his horse among the bushes, lay likewise down to sleep, sure of awakening at any approaching sound.

It would not do, however, to remain longer in the spot where they then were than absolutely necessary. There were probably Shanbâh still in the neighbourhood ; and the well of Kossa was the most frequented of all the small oases within an equal distance of the city. But what plan to pursue it was not easy to determine. Essnousee was in a condition that made it impossible for him to travel any considerable distance, even could he have been bonveyed upon à camel : to do so.on horseback was yet more difficult. Their stock of provision was no more than what remained of that which the stranger had brought with him, and which had been calculated only for his own consumption, during a rapid journey to Ghadames. At last it was determined that Essnousee should be moved to a spot about three hours' distant, and which was away from all the ordinary routes, and rarely visited except by hunters. There was a small cave, where might be obtained the shelter which the few palm-trees were too scattered to afford ; and water might be procured by scooping in the sand. Saïd, so was the stranger named, proposed that he should leave Essnousee at that spot, whilst he rode to a village in the mountains two days? journey to the northward, to obtain a fresh supply of dates, and, if possible, some means of conveying the wounded adventurer to Ghadames. The distance understood in the expression a two days? journey, might be accomplished by a well-mounted horseman in eight or ten hours; the former computation of time having reference to the ordinary rate of travelling of a merchant caravan.

As soon, therefore, as the sun had set, and the air began to grow cool, Saïd assisted Essnousee upon the horse ; and himself accompanying him on foot, they proceeded towards the asylum proposed, the necessity of the case giving the wounded youth strength to support the pain and fatigue occasioned by the

[ocr errors]

movement. They took with them, as an important addition to Saïd's small stock of dates, some choice pieces cut from the hump of the unfortunate Maharee. They beguiled the way with conversation, and during the journey Saïd gave some account of himself. Saïd was some years older than Essnousee ; he was a native of the Sahara, but since he was fifteen years of age he had been travelling in foreign countries. He had first visited Constantinople, in the suite of an ex-viceroy of Tripoli. Then he had gone to Egypt, where he became one of the personal attendants upon Ibrahim Pasha, in which capacity he had visited Paris and London. Travel had expanded his mind, and wiped out some early prejudices. He had learned toleration even for the Christian. A few more years spent in western Europe might have taught him to look with patience on the Jew. He had lately come from France to Tunis, and was on his way, he said, from thence, to visit the holy and mahrabout city of Ghadames, when he had the good fortune to be useful to Essnousee. “I have heard much," he said, “ of your goodly oasis, and of the feud of the Wezeets and the Weleeds. You belong, you tell me, to the former faction. Can you explain to me the origin of their disputes ? “I thank God and his prophet that I am a Wezeet.

Of course we hate the Weleeds : have we not reason? Our fathers and our fathers' fathers hated them before us. So likewise their fathers' fathers, and their fathers' fathers.”

" But how did the feud arise ? for I have heard the matter variously stated. I have been told that it began in the second century of the Hegira ; and I have been told that it began in the third century; and again, I have been told that it began in the time of Mahomet, the prophet of God. I have heard that the quarrel arose because a Wezeet preferred the black dates of his own trees to the brown dates of the trees of one of the Weleeds ; and contrary-wise, I have heard that it was because a Weleed preferred the brown dates of his palms to the black dates of the palms of a Wezeet.

Nay, held in reverence be the white beard of Mahomet, I thank God and him I know nothing truly on this matter. But I deem that the quarrel is much older ; and I believe that it grew out of a dispute as to which of two straws was the longer. And let the earth die, and the stars set the firmament on fire, but I will maintain that my ancestor's straw was the longer by at least two hairs' breadth."

“God is great. He knows all things. But as it has not been written by Mahomet, his prophet, it is hard to tell now. And the feud does not decline in Ghadames ?

How should it decline ? Has it not put forth deep roots and strong branches through many generations? Is it not a goodly hate, venerable, and well stricken in years ? Shall we not hate with the hate with which our fathers hated, and uphold the straw which our fathers upheld ?”

“It is reasonable. And which faction has most strength in the mahrabout city ?

“ The strength of the just quarrel is with the Wezeets against the Weleeds, as the strength of the mountains of Atlas against an ant-hill of sand. The Weleeds have the strength of houses and streets ; their merchants are the richer ; their date-trees more in number. But all the gold of Mecca could not give length to their straw.

“No, truly ; though half of it might shorten the straw of their foes. And you never, then, meet or hold converse with the Weleeds ?

Praise be to God and his prophet, we never set foot in their streets. We go round a mile, for that we will not pass between their houses. We travel with the same caravans ; we go forth against the Shanbâh together; and our old men dispute with their old men in the city divan. Elsewise we converse not with them ; we eat not of the fruit of their date-trees; we buy not in their shops, nor sell to them in ours ; they are as Christians to us, as dogs, or as Jews."

“ And you fight with them sometimes ? ”

“Should we fight with the dogs of the city? They are as dogs to us, and we to them as swine. Yet I have heard, that far back towards the days of the prophet, we fought, and many on both sides were slain ; but it altered not the lengths of our straws ; and I pray that it be so written that the straws shall continue unaltered, until the destruction of all things reduce them to one longness. And meanwhile, I will maintain, through fire and flame, against tempest and whirlwind, spite of iron and brass, in the teeth of the lion and over the horn of the unicorn, that the straw of the Wezeets is the longer straw by at least two hairs' breadth. I am Essnousee Ben Yahia, and have said it.”

Essnousee and Saïd reached the cave in the desert. Saïd made a fire of dry palm branches and cooked a part of the camel's

« السابقةمتابعة »