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HAMID AND RASHID AT PLAY
WHEN little Rashid woke up the next morning, he rubbed his eyes and for a moment wondered if he was dreaming. It seemed so strange to find himself lying in the corner of the big tent instead of in his own room, with his pet doves cooing at his window.
But instead of doves, what he heard was the neighing and stamping of horses, and the calls of the men driving the camels out to pasture. As he turned his head, he found Hamid’s mother standing beside him with a bowl in her hand.
“Here is warm milk from the camel,” she said, with a smile, “to make thee well and redden thy cheeks. Hasten to drink it while it is warm. There is water in yonder basin with which to wash,” she added.
Rashid was up in a minute, and dashed the water over his face and hands. Then he made his prayer like a good little Mohammedan that he was, for he must do this before eating.
“I never tasted anything nicer than that,” said he, as he finished his bowl of milk.
“‘Tis good for thee to be hungry, for it means that thou art already better,” said little Fatimah, wisely, giving him a piece of the cake which had been baked the night before. She had brought in her bowl to keep him company at his breakfast.
“Where is Hamid?” asked Rashid, looking around for his little friend.
“He has been in and out many times; but I would not let him waken you,” said Zubaydah.
“He is full of a secret that he will not tell me,” spoke up Fatimah, in rather a hurt voice.
Just then Hamid poked his head in behind the curtain of the tent in a great state of excitement.
“Come, Rashid,” he said, “and tell me what thou findest here.”
Rashid ran at once out from the tent, and there stood a fine little blooded Arabian horse, all saddled and bridled.
“Oh, what a beautiful little horse! “exclaimed Rashid.
“She only waits for her master,” said a voice behind him, and he turned to find Al-Abukar smiling gravely.
“The horse is thine,” he said. “She will also help to bring strength to thy limbs, and will carry thee like the wind across the plains and hills.”
Little Rashid was so astonished and happy that he could not find words with which to thank his kind friend for his gift, but he kissed his hand and stammered out something. Then he threw his arms about the pony’s arched neck and patted her delicate little nose. Oh, how beautiful he thought the handsome red saddle and bridle, with their silver buckles and red tassels! There is no gift that pleases a little Arab boy so much as a fine pony.
“Is she not a queen?” said Hamid, who was as much pleased as his little friend. “I rode with father to the tents of the great Sheik, where one finds the best and swiftest horses; and I helped to pick her out from dozens of other ponies. She belongs to one of the five great families, does she not, father?”
Hamid, like all little Arab boys, had been taught to love horses, and to know the history of the great breeds of Arabia as well as he did that of his own tribe.
“Oh, she knows me already!” exclaimed Rashid, with delight, as the pony rubbed her little nose against his arm.
“She looks lovely and haughty, like a little Sultanah,” he continued.
“What shall you call her?” asked Fatimah, who was giving the pony a bit of her cake to nibble.
“I will call her ‘Sultanah,’” said Rashid, as he clapped his hands; and everybody agreed that the little horse could not have a better name.
“Now you must feed her, Rashid, so that she will know that she belongs to you,” said Hamid. “I will get some of the date bread.” He ran back quickly into the tent, and was back again in a moment with a brown, sticky mass in his hand, a kind of paste made of dried dates. This Rashid fed to Sultanah, who seemed to enjoy it very much.
“You must sometimes feed her meat, too; that will make her strong and swift,” added Hamid, who was proud indeed to be able to show that he knew all about Arabian ponies.
“Our cousin who lives near the sea gives his horses dried fish to eat,” said Rashid.
“That may be well enough for some horses,” replied Hamid, “but I give Zuleika dates and milk and cakes. She eats what her master does. Do you not, my beauty?” he said, stroking Zuleika, who had just strolled up to make friends with the newcomer.
Nothing would do but that Rashid must have a ride at once; so Hamid saddled his pony, too, and away went the two boys cantering swift and sure in the morning sunlight.
“We will pass by the madressah, and let the boys see how fine we are,” said Hamid.
The madressah was a low shed made of palm-branches where the little Bedouin boys and girls went to school; for even in the desert the children must study their lessons.
When Hamid and Rashid rode up, a number of children were sitting around on the ground, singing out their recitations at the top of their voices, while the school-mistress sat outside sewing.
But they forgot all about their lessons when they spied the new boy, and ran out to greet Rashid and ask him all sorts of questions; and they patted and praised Sultanah and picked out her good points in a very knowing way.
“Oh, thou truant!” said the school-mistress to Hamid, “why art thou not at thy lessons? Always thou hast thy head filled with other things than thy books.”
“Nay, teacher, be not cross; to-morrow we will both come; and you will see that I shall bring you a new pupil,” said Hamid, as he and Rashid rode away.
“Here is the place where the ponies are kept,” said Hamid, riding up to one side of their tent. The boys jumped off their horses and began to unsaddle.
“We will fasten Sultanah, for she is strange yet to her new home,” said Hamid, tying the pony’s halter to one of the tent ropes. “But Zuleika would never wander from this spot where I place her until I bid her. She will never let any one touch her but me; and, if a stranger tried to mount her, he would soon find himself lying in the dust.
“Zuleika does everything but talk,” Hamid went on, for he loved his horse as if she were one of the family. “Sometimes, when the nights are cold, she will come around to the tent curtain and put her head inside and neigh, and then I let her come inside and stand by the fire.”
“Now we will make ‘kayf’ for awhile; for thou hast rushed about enough for one hot morning,” said Hamid, throwing his saddle in one corner of the big tent.
Making “kayf” is just a little Arab boy’s way of having a good time doing nothing at all but lying on a rug in a cool corner of a tent, or sitting in the shade of a palm-tree.
Rashid was not sorry to rest after the excitement of the morning, so he curled up on one of the mats and was fast asleep in a minute.
“Thou hast promised to show me the young camels,” whispered Rashid when Hamid had finished pounding the coffee after the midday meal.
“Come now, then,” said Hamid. “Nassar-Ben and his men guard the camel-colts down by the stream.”
The two boys went in and out among the brown tents, jumping over the tent ropes rather than taking the trouble to go around, until they found the big herd of camels with a number of baby camels. They were in the river valley, where there was a good crop of coarse, high grass called camel-grass, because it is so coarse that nothing but a camel could eat it.
It was a great herd of camels, some of them eating of the grass and others lying down in the shade; and all around were frisking numbers of little baby camels.
Hamid’s father was a Sheik, or captain of a tribe of Bedouins, the real desert tribes of Arabs, who live only in tents in an oasis of the desert.
They had pitched their tents in this particular spot because of its being a very suitable one in which to pasture their camels. The sole wealth of a Bedouin is his flocks and herds and his horse and his firearms; and, of course, his tent and his few simple belongings.
Some of the Sheiks raise horses, others sheep, and others camels. The people of Hamid’s tribe lived by raising and selling camels to their neighbours who did not raise them, or to the merchants in the cities and towns.
“Don’t baby camels look as if they would break in two?” said Rashid, as they came up to a group of young camels, “their legs are so long and thin.”
“Father is going to take some of the colts to sell to the great Sheik who has the fine horses. Perhaps he will let us go with him,” said Hamid. “I heard Nassar-Ben tell him last night that the young camels were now strong enough for the journey.
“Nassar-Ben is our camel-sheik; and he and his men guard the herd. There he sits in the shadow of the tent, and those are his children scrambling around and playing on that old camel’s back,” continued Hamid, bound that his little friend should know all about everything.
“Wait, oh, babies! I can mount quicker than that,” shouted Hamid to Nassar-Ben’s children, who were amusing themselves climbing over the back of one of the old camels.
“Look! This is the way to mount a camel,” said Hamid, as he climbed up one of the legs of a big camel as if it were a tree-trunk; and, finally, throwing his leg over the beast’s neck, he was soon perched on the hump in the middle of the camel’s back.
“Come up, come up, that’s the stairway!” he called to Rashid.
“Oh, I daren’t,” cried poor little Rashid, slipping back as he tried to hold on to the camel’s rusty knee.
“You will learn in time, my little master,” said Nassar-Ben, lifting him up beside Hamid. Then all the other little children swarmed up the old camel’s legs; and, when the camel man gave her a blow with a stick, away she went, the children laughing and holding on to each other to keep from slipping off. Suddenly the old camel wheeled around and started back at a gallop. Little Rashid had ridden on a camel before, but never on a bare-back camel in that fashion. The first thing he knew he was lying in the dust, together with one of the little Bedouin boys, whom he had pulled off with him as he fell.
“Oh!” said the little boy, half-crying, “you made me fall off on purpose!” He felt so badly that he, one of the boys of the camel-sheik, should have been seen to fall from a camel that he began to thump Rashid as hard as he could.
“Fie! for shame!” cried Hamid, rushing up to them as he jumped down from the camel. “Is this the way to treat a stranger and a guest in our tents?”
The little boy stopped at once and hung his head, looking very much ashamed; for he knew how wrong it was to be rude to a guest.
“This greenhorn from the town made me fall, and they jeered at me,” he said, sulkily.
“Nay, but I did not mean to pull you off,” said Rashid; “thou must blame the steep hump of the camel.” He looked so sorry that the little fellow stopped frowning at once. They made friends again, and all ran back for another ride on the camel, while Rashid made up his mind that he would learn to climb and mount a camel all by himself.
After a few days, Rashid’s father had to go home, and Rashid had quite a lump in his throat as he sat on Sultanah one morning and watched his father’s little caravan pass out of sight over the ridge. He would not have cried for anything, however; and, when he thought of his good friends here in the “Black Tents “and his little pony and the good times he was to have, he felt better.
What with drinking camel’s milk and galloping over the plain on Sultanah’s back, Rashid soon began to grow strong and well. His little white face changed to a healthy brown colour.
Rashid and Hamid helped the falconer look after his birds, and Awad, their keeper, showed them how to train a falcon oneself.
One day as the boys were sitting under the shadow of a group of big palm-trees playing a sort of “jack-straw” game with date seeds for stones, Rashid suddenly exclaimed: “What can that be?” A sudden flash of light had made his eyes blink, and straightway there was another. “Who is playing tricks?” said Hamid, looking around. Then they heard a low laugh, and there was Fatimah behind a tree, holding a little looking-glass in her hand so that it would flash a ray of sunlight right in the boys’ eyes.
“Oh, you monkey! Where did you get that glass, and who is this stranger?” asked Ha-mid; for he had just spied another little girl’s head peeping over Fatimah’s shoulder.
“There is a merchant at the great tent. He is Hajj and this is his little granddaughter; and, oh! he has such beautiful things to sell, mirrors like this and silks and jewelry and — but you should see them yourselves! “said Fatimah without stopping for breath.
Hamid did not need to be told the second time. It was a great event in the lives of the desert children whenever a travelling merchant came; for this was the only chance they ever had to buy anything whatever known to the town dwellers.
The children found the old merchant opening up his saddle-bags and spreading his wares on a rug in front of the tent, while everybody crowded around to look at the velvet purses, the silk veils, and trinkets of all kinds as well as weapons and firearms which he displayed.
What caught Hamid’s eyes first were the long pistols with funny curved handles set with mother-of-pearl and silver.
“Oh, father!” he said, “thou hast promised me a new pistol! You remember; it was when I shot to the centre of the mark a month ago.”
“Ah, thou hast a good memory; but thy mother wants a silken veil and Fatimah some gewgaws,” said old Al-Abukar.
“Here is a fine pistol which will just suit the little Sheik,” said the old merchant, taking from his own belt a fine weapon, all set with pearl and silver. “This was made for the son of a great prince; but it came to me in the course of trade and it is a gift that will make the boy glad.”
“Oh, father! What a beautiful weapon! It will be a long time before one sees such another,” exclaimed Hamid, as he handled the weapon lovingly.
“Ah, well,” said his father, “a promise is a promise; and one might as well spend the money now as at another time.” Then he began to unroll the long sash around his waist, so that he could get at his leather belt in which he kept his money.
Wasn’t Hamid a proud boy when he. stuck the pistol in his sash and strolled up and down in front of the other boys. They were all envious, too, in a proper way; for it was not every one who could carry a pistol made for a prince.
“Now let us see what thy new pistol will do,” said Al-Abukar, taking a coin from his pouch, and, through a hole in it, attaching a string and suspending it from the end of a pole which projected from one side of the tent. He paced backwards a short distance, and told Hamid to stand on that spot and shoot at the string which held the coin and try to cut it with the bullet from his pistol.
“Oh, father, thou hast given me a hard task,” said Hamid, as he took his place and began to load his pistol.
“So much the more honour to you if you do it well, then,” replied his father. “Aim carefully and not too high,” he continued.
Hamid shot at the coin several times, but with no luck.
“Let Rashid try his skill,” said Al-Abukar.
Rashid’s hand shook as he took aim, and his first shot went wild; but his second just grazed the coin and sent it swinging to and fro like a pendulum.
“Well done! oh, son of the city!” cried out the children from the other tents, who had crowded around to watch the shooting.
Their praise pleased Rashid, for he had practised hard with Hamid at shooting at a mark since he had been in the desert.
“I will do it this time,” said Hamid, as he set his teeth. Again, however, he only sent the dust flying about an astonished camel, who just at that moment poked his inquisitive nose out from behind the tent.
“Enough powder and shot has been wasted for one day,” said Al-Abukar, raising his pistol; , “we will take the coin down.” Then, firing at the cord with a sure and steady aim, he cut it as if with a knife.
“It is not the fault of the new pistol,” said Al-Abukar, smiling at Hamid, who looked very disappointed. “Never mind, thou wilt succeed better another time,” he added.